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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
100 years of Japanese cinema ?...oh, this must be great! These were my
first thoughts when I found this 55 minute long documentary on the
evolution of Japanese film-making. Being quite fond of Japanese films
for many years, I believed this was a great chance to remember classic
masterpieces of the past, and most of all, learn about movies and
directors I had never heard of. I was VERY WRONG.. Nagisa Oshima had no
intention of making a true and honest documentary on the first 100
years of his country's cinema. All he was interested in was a chance to
glorify himself and his work, presenting himself as the man who changed
the whole system by breaking away from the major studios and starting
making break-through, independent films. Almost half of the narration
is in first person ("I thought this..I did that...") and equally long
is the time spent on his own films.
How about the other great Japanese directors? Let's see.. Akira Kurosawa: 2 references (half a minute on "No regrets for our youth" and 2 seconds on "Rashomon"), Kenji Mizoguchi: 1 reference, 30 seconds, Yasujiro Ozu: never existed (only a photo of his is shown!), Masaki Kobayashi: never existed, Hiroshi Teshigahara: 1 reference, 4 seconds Not a single word is said on films like Ran, Ikiru, Tokyo Story, Woman in the dunes, Ugetsu Monogatari, Harakiri etc.. Mr.Osima probably believes that films of his own such as "Gishiki" and "Koshikei" or "Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence" are worth to be mentioned extendedly in a documentary about Japanese film-making.
I am glad I watched this already having an idea on Japanese cinema, so I won't buy that crap. If this wasn't the case, I would be convinced that nothing really good was ever produced in Japan in the 50's, since all the directors were restrained by common themes and state limitations, a restraint which of course has ended upon the arrival of the one and only..Nagisa Oshima. Thankfully, this is not the case..
Mr. Oshima, if you think you are the greatest Japanese director..you are very much mistaken. If you also believe that all "Rashomon" has achieved, was to open Western audiences to Japanese films..let me tell you something..even if Kurosawa had not made a single other film, he would still the greatest of all. I wish you could have made a film like "Ugetsu Monogatari" or "Chikamatsu Monogatari"..but you haven't. What you are presenting here isn't a tribute to Japanese film history, it's just your filmography in disguise.
p.s. One year later, in 1995, Martin Scorsese released "A Personal Journey with M.S. Through American Movies". THIS IS WHAT A MOVIE HISTORY DOCUMENTARY SHOULD BE LIKE..
"My hatred of Japanese cinema includes absolutely all of it." - Oshima
Completely bogus "documentary" about the first hundred years of Japanese film - a topic one couldn't possibly hope to cram into an hour movie, but that any number of living directors (in 1995) would have done far more justice to than Mr. Oshima. Despite claiming that the first two of Japanese cinema's "Golden Ages" occurred prior to the 1960s, this section of Japanese film history gets an almost hilariously skimmed treatment. As another reviewer here mentions, almost all major film directors - and I'm of the opinion that EVERY major Japanese film director began their careers well before Oshima and Co. - of the classic Japanese film are mentioned once, briefly, or not at all. But who at BFI (this was produced for their "Century of Cinema" series) got the bright idea to let the irreverent Oshima do this? The directors of the Japanese "New Wave" were, with few exceptions, hostile towards or dismissive of all that had come before in their national cinema. Oshima, though claiming to detest the "New Wave" tag in his largely first-person narration here, certainly feels that the era that he was a major player in, the era that opened the floodgates to the so-called extreme films that make up the bulk of the Japanese export market today, was the most important in the nation's cinematic history. And indeed, if one is looking for an overview of Oshima Nagisa films, one could do worse than looking here, as clips of his own films outnumber those of Ozu, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Kinoshita, and Naruse combined. The the last of these doesn't even merit a clip or a mention in the whole film.
Oshima was one of those angry young filmmakers who cropped up like mushrooms worldwide in the 1960s - and in the mess of post-war Japan he had a right to be angry. However, his films, which highlighted social ills that were all too real, were for the most part angry and little else. Like many similar filmmakers of his generation all he could offer is a rather poorly thought-out extreme Marxism. Oshima's films contained a lot of violence and sex on the one hand and a great deal of tedious speechifying and little red flags on the other. This is not my sort of thing.
Like J. L. Godard in his pompous, ludicrous HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA, we have a director who seems to have no real enthusiasm for his subject, but who does have a great deal of self-adoration and a wildly overinflated view of his place in film history. It's too bad that there remains, as far as I know, a good documentary overview of Japanese film. If you want a solid history of the subject stick to the books. Richie and Anderson's pioneering Japanese FILM: ART AND INDUSTRY is a good place to start.
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