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The film opens from the perspective of a Bolex 16mm camera as a college student argues with the holder of camera, another student. The person holding the camera runs away film still rolling. We cut to the student chasing after the camera thief who is finally discovered on the edge of a tall parking garage's roof. The thief jumps to his death holding the camera. The police show up but the student grabs the camera which he claims is his. The police give chase and get the camera back. The student chases, on foot, after the police car that has the camera but loses it in a long dark traffic tunnel. The student wakes up surrounded by his friends, all members of a communist protest group devoted to filming the upcoming revolution. They recount a very different story than what we have just seen. They and the student were all at a massive street protest when suddenly the police charged and in the mêlée confiscated all cameras from the protesters. The student chased after the police after they knocked down one of the group's cameramen and took the camera in a police car. The student can't believe this story despite the fact that the person he saw jump off the garage roof is sitting right in front of him! The group, ignoring the student's strange story, starts to plan the next protest which is to get the police to release the confiscated camera and film. The student get fixated on the "dead" man's girlfriend and tries to solve the mystery which he is convinced can be solved by watching the film in the confiscated camera.
Oshima who was a bit older than the characters portrayed in this film clearly has some things to say about the turbulent youth protest movements of the time. That makes the film interesting and perplexing at the same time. There are certainly things going on in this film that don't travel well across culture and time. The dialog between the revolutionary group is funny and insightful about people with big plans for society but no means to actually implement the sweeping changes they propose. In a way this is the problem with the film for this viewer.
There seems to be three films going on here, one a sort of metaphysical mystery film, another a commentary about the student protest movement and third, the standard ATG nudity and sexual violence art drivel. I have now seen enough of the ATG output to know that they frequently required their film makers to cram in at least two rape scenes per movie. Besides the repulsiveness of such scenes, here they serve little real purpose that I can discern except to titillate the frustrated Japanese male audience.
The end result is a fascinating, really well photographed, interesting movie that ends up a bit unfocused. Maybe that was part of the point. Unfortunately the ending telegraphed itself to me but I was captivated to the end.
The movie were made employing all non-experienced actors. This was the first Ooshima film that didn't use any known actors, and his last black and white movie. Due to the lack of experience of the actors, acting is wooden, and dialogs are totally "read" from the script. The movie was completed from start to the theaters in exactly 60 days (April 28 1970 to June 27 1970). Even for the fast shooting Ooshima, this was exceptionally fast production.
The movie was targeted for the college students of that time, but poor acting, and somewhat documentary style didn't get support from its intended audiences. But maybe Ooshima and the producers knew that the intended audience weren't worth making lavishly produced movie, because they are (were) youth just like the people who were in this movie, who were rather shallow but opinionated about their world view.
Looking back with 20/20 hind sight, this movie is rated high for it's accurate portrayal of the society of the time, and Ooshima might have had exceptional foresight to focus his attention on the subject the way he did in this movie. Not for nothing is he a medal of honor winner from both the Japanese and French government where he's directed many excellent movies.
Ooshima is probably the most talented of the director from the Japanese New Wave period, and certainly one of the most talented director to come out of Japan. He's like a mixture of Federico Fellini, and Roger Corman with crisp visual style all his own.
For most of the actors, this was their first and last film they appeared in. The actor who played the main character Kazuo Gotoh became a journalist, and his girlfriend Emiko Iwasaki appeared in few minor roles before she retired completely from the film business.