Rebel within the System: Subversive Style in Four Films by Nagisa Oshima

Conference: The Asian Conference on Media, Communication & Film (MediAsia2022)
Title: Rebel within the System: Subversive Style in Four Films by Nagisa Oshima
Stream: Film Direction and Production
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Allen Walzem, Hokkaido Bunkyo University, Japan


This paper represents a foray into a close analysis of the film style of iconoclastic Japanese film director Nagisa Oshima. Oshima is a rare figure in film history because he was able to maintain a high level of autonomy in his filmmaking even though he was making highly political, wildly iconoclastic, and technically daring films, all while still managing to make money for his studio. The most remarkable thing about Oshima’s “style” is its fluidity—it often changed dramatically from film to film. As Japanese film scholar Donald Richie puts it “Each film looks rather different…critics who write about him have their job cut out for them. It’s a problem.”. This is exactly the problem I am confronting in this paper by looking at both the narrative content and cinematic style in four widely varied Oshima films, Cruel Story of Youth, Burial of the Sun, Violence in the Afternoon, and Cruel Story of Youth, breaking down their stylistic idiosyncrasies while also examining the inter-relationship of form and content in each. My argument is that Oshima was never, as has been frequently claimed, merely a sensational filmmaker who maintained his popularity through exploitational shock value, but an artist who carefully chose—and then brilliantly executed—a specific style for each of his films based on the demands of its narrative content.

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