Ôshima Nagisa (born 1932) is most notorious for the torrid and graphic “Ai no korîda” (In the Realm of the Senses, 1976). Before that, he was already controversial as “the Japanese Godard” and a leader of “the Japanese New Wave” along with Imamura Shôhei (Pigs and Battleships), Teshigahara Hiroshi (Face of Another), Suzuki Seijun (Fighting Elegy) and Shinoda Masahiro (Samurai Spy). Neither Imamura not Ôshima shied away from depicting earthy sexuality or violence or from criticizing US imperialism.
Ôshima’s 1968 film “Kaette kita yopparai” (released in English as “Sinner in Paradise,” but now part of the new five-disc Critierion Eclipse “Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties” as “Three Resurrected Drunkards”) fiercely satirizes both the prejudices against Koreans in Japan and the war in South Vietnam.
It begins with three recent high school graduates from Tokyo on a beach on Kyushu, the southernmost of the major islands in the archipelago of Japan). They are acting out the grimacing Vietnamese man (Nguyen Van Lam) in a plaid shirt about to be executed at point-blank range by a South Vietnamese officer, Lt. Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Loan on 1 Feb. 1968. That iconic photo by Eddie Adams will be recreated at least fourmore times in the movie, and is multiplied just before the end.
Ôshima did not directly criticize US actions in Vietnam. The iconic image is shows only Vietnamese. The movie also satirizes Korean military involvement in concert with the US in trying to maintain the unpopular South Vietnamese regime (against the also frightening North Vietnamese one).
Because of a structure that should not be revealed, it is difficult to say much about the plot. The three boys whose Japanese names are never spoken, strip to their red briefs on the deserted beach and go into the water. At an excruciatingly slow pace, an arm reaches up out of the sand, pulls down two sets of clothes, replaces them with Korean army uniforms and two thousand-yen notes.
This leads to various outcomes, including being deported to Korea and shipped off to the Vietnam war and the middle (in height) of the three falling in love with a young Korean woman (Midori Mako) who provides the movie’s one shot of naked female breasts. (There are also fleeting shots from behind of the boys dressing in a bathhouse locker room.)
The movie is much slower-paced than mid-1960s Richard Lester movies – with or without the Beatles – and differs from Three Stooges movies in largely eschewing bops on the head (and with less bickering). The most outright surrealist touch is the arm reaching out of the sand.
The movie was probably daring and outrageous in Japan in 1968, but is close to being a yawner now. Mercifully, it only runs 80 minutes. I’d say the movie is playful in ways akin to Godard before his Maoist turn, which is still well short of praise. It provoked a few chuckles and attained some ironies, but I wish that Criterion had included “Derath by Hanging,” the 1968 Ôshima film I want to see.
My favorite Ôshima film, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (1983, starring David Bowie as a POW) is coming to DVD in a regular Criterion edition, on 28 September.