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)
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)