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35 mm, 123 min. Japanese.

The fall of the house of Sakurada after World War II, which Oshima depicts via showing how his protagonist Masuo remembers a series of ritual family gatherings, which become ever more absurd until they eventually fall apart. The film rarely leaves the dark, sparse rooms where the festivities take place; we see nothing of Japan outside of this family. But modernity is creeping in from all sides, bringing with it options and new perspectives that will undo the straightjacket of tradition. With its stage-like arrangements, Gishiki is akin to a cinematographic game that plays on a theme and its variations, thus narrating the great generational upheavals in Japan. Oshima focuses in particular on the psychological suffering of the younger generation, which he describes with the same mixture of empathy, exaggeration and analytical distance that is typical of his work. (ab)

Nagisa Oshima was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1932. After studying political science at Kyoto University, from 1954 Oshima worked as a director’s assistant for Studio Sochiku in Japan. In 1959, he directed his first film, Ai to kibo no machi. As a representative of the Japanese New Wave (Nūberu bāgu), he crucially shaped post-war Japanese cinema. In 1961, he founded his own production company, Sozosha. Along with feature films, he directed numerous documentaries for Japanese television. Having already worked as a film critic during the 1950s, Oshima published continuously in the following decades and often appeared on television. His oeuvre comprises more than 20 films and more than 15 television productions. Oshima died in 2013.

Japan and the Japanese in me

It has been almost two years. Susumu Hani [Japanese film director and scriptwriter; the editors] was living in Europe to make a film, and he commented to me that, as he felt himself more keenly as a human being than as Japanese, he found no difficulty in making a film in a foreign country with foreigners. I replied that this was inconceivable for me. Completely involved as I am with being Japanese, I have no way to make films except by examining the Japanese and endeavouring to discover what they are.
My next film, too, is about the Japanese. It is about how a Japanese person about my age lived through the 25 years of the postwar period. (…)
The hero of my film will be called Masuo, a common name for a boy born in Manchuria at that time [at the time of the outbreak of the Second Japanese-Chinese War and the Japanese invasion of China; the editors], for it incorporates the characters for the word “Manchuria” and means “man of Manchuria”. The story begins with Masuo and his mother returning from Manchuria a year after Japan's defeat, in 1947. (…)
Though there is no doubt that my film will depict the history of its hero’s loves and hates over the course of 25 years, there is also no doubt that the film will automatically depict the history of Japan's recovery from defeat, her prosperity, and her present alleged remilitarisation. The question is how and to what extent the Japanese people have or have not changed over the course of this history, and how they will make the transition into the future. Of course, I could not possibly answer such questions in a single film. My film will only be my own personal answer to these questions, a clinical example as it were. And at present I am inclined to answer that, superficial aspects aside, the Japanese people have undergone almost no basic change. (…)

(Nagisa Oshima, Tokyo Shimbun, January 18, 1971)

Why ceremonies?

If my last film HE DIED AFTER THE WAR [TOKYO SENSO SENGO HIWA, 1970; the editors] was my personal investigation into the problem of death in the year 1970, an attempt to define myself as a filmmaker, GISHIKI is an examination into the present of 1971, an attempt to come to terms with the totality of my existence and emotions throughout Japan’s 25 post-war years.
The student movement reached its apex in 1968 and 1969, becoming less active the following year. It is my feeling that Japanese society must take this lull as an opportunity to sum up the quarter century of post-war Japan. GISHIKI is my own modest and personal attempt at summation.
But why ceremonies? Because it seems to me that during ceremonies, the Japanese are possessed by particularly delicate emotions, emotions often completely unrelated to their daily lives. Ceremonies are a time when the special characteristics of the Japanese spirit are revealed. It is this spirit that concerns and worries me; my own spirit, which wavers during such occasions. One might easily reject, both intellectually and emotionally, militarism and xenophobic nationalism in daily life. But these forces, once beyond the realm of daily life, are not so easily denied.

(Nagisa Oshima, Infoblatt No. 15, 1. Internationales Forum des jungen Films, Berlin 1971, Download PDF)

The disintegration of a family and a country

GISHIKI is the chronicle of a Japanese extended family between 1946 and 1971, depicted through the celebrations where all the family members meet for weddings and funerals. At the same time, GISHIKI is a reflection of the history of Japan over the last 25 years. Oshima shows the disintegration of a family, a once powerful house tied to each other more by hate than by love, which is destroyed by incest, suicide, and murder, a 25-year-long hara-kiri. And in moments of comedy – the women, in particular, are free to laugh – he shows another way of overcoming the past, not through self-destruction, but through the conscious disregard for false received traditions. But these moments of emancipation are rare; resignation predominates.
In his film, Oshima admirably and almost daredevilishly brings together two different artistic traditions: model-like epic theatre, like Brecht’s, and cinema melodrama that releases emotions and sometimes insanity that can no longer be tamed. The effect of this mixture is that the film’s equation, family = Japan, is valid, but does not fit smoothly. Cheap symbolism that could completely spoil such a film thereby becomes impossible.

(Wilhelm Roth, Frankfurter Neue Presse, July 3, 1971. Press review Forum, 1971)

Production companies Sozosha (Tokio, Japan), Art Theatre Guild of Japan (ATG) (Tokio, Japan). Director Nagisa Oshima. Screenplay Tsutomu Tamura, Mamoru Sasaki, Nagisa Oshima. Cinematography Toichiro Narushima. Editing Keiichiro Uraoka. Music Toru Takemitsu. Sound Hideo Nishizaki. With Kenzo Kawarazaki (Masuo Sakurada), Atsuko Kaku (Ritsuko Sakurada), Atsuo Nakamura (Terumichi Tachibana), Akiko Koyama (Setsuko Sakurada), Kei Sato (Kazuomi Sakurada), Kiyoshi Tsuchiya (Tadashi Sakurada), Nobuko Otawa (Shizu Sakurada), Maki Takayama (Kiku Sakurada), Sue Mitobe (Chiyo Sakurada), Hosei Komatsu (Isamu Sakurada), Fumio Watanabe (Susumu Sakurada), Rokko Toura (Mamoru Sakurada), Shizue Kawarazaki (Tomiko Sakurada), Eitaro Ozawa (Takeyo Tachibana).


1959: Ai to kibo no machi / A Town of Love and Hope / Stadt der Liebe und Hoffnung (62 min.). 1960: Seishun zankoku monogatari / Cruel Story of Youth / Nackte Jugend (69 min.), Nihon no yoru to kiri / Night and Fog in Japan / Nacht und Nebel über Japan (107 min.). 1965: Etsuraku / Pleasures of the Flesh / Die Freuden des Fleisches (104 min.). 1968: Koshikei / Death by Hanging / Tod durch Erhängen (107 min.), Kaette kita yopparai / Three Resurrected Drunkards / Rückkehr der drei Trunkenbolde (80 min.). 1969: Shonen / Boy / Der Junge (105 min.). 1970: Tokyo senso sengo hiwa: eiga de isho o nokoshita otoko no monogatari / The Battle of Tokyo, or the Story of the Young Man Who Left His Will on Film / Geheime Geschichten aus der Zeit nach dem Tokio-Krieg (94 min.). 1976: Ai no corrida / In the Realm of the Senses / Im Reich der Sinne (102 min, Competition 1976, Retrospective 1990). 1978: Ai no borei / Empire of Passion / Im Reich der Leidenschaft (105 min.). 1983: Senjo no meri kurisumasu / Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence / Furyo – Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (123 min.). 1986: Makkusu mon amuru / Max mon amour (97 min., Homage 2019).

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