A closed loop of a movie, unusual for Oshima in that you can guess where the story is going and how it will end, but there’s plenty of engaging craziness in between. Opens with a handheld shot of two people fighting over a camera. Someone with a camera suicides off a building, the cops apparently have taken the camera, and Motoki wakes up with his friends (or comrades – they seem to be a political media collective).

Nobody else seems to know anything about anyone jumping off any buildings, just that police attacked while the group was filming a protest in the park and took their camera, and Motoki had bravely tried to reclaim it (though they chide him for having a sense of private property about the group’s camera). Motoki swears to Yasuko that her boyfriend Endo killed himself this morning – though Endo was in the room with them all a few minutes before. Then he rapes Yasuko – why? A “seventh art series” video essay I found says that she was always his girlfriend, but when Motoki doesn’t seem to remember this she plays along, agreeing that she dates Endo.

He and Yasuko start acting like a couple, screen footage of seemingly random locations shot by another group member then set out to find these locations, each starting to “remember” events that may not have happened, and denying events that did. “The stupid asshole who made that movie didn’t exist!” Motoki seems to accidentally find his own parents’ house while reverse-location-scouting. He sets out to shoot the same landscapes in order to become the other cameraman, and Motoki stands in every shot, ending up hurt or raped each time. Finally we see a POV shot of the group confronting him to return their camera, and he runs – but in front of the handheld camera, as if there are two of him. Atop a building, Motoki appears, blocking his way back down, so he jumps – then we see a hand pick up his camera and run with it.

C. Fujiwara, in an excellent article on Moving Image Source:

The sense that The Man Who Left His Will on Film has come after something else, in a “post” period, is explicit in the Japanese title, Tokyo senso sengo hiwa, which means “Secret Story of the Period after the Tokyo War.” “Tokyo War” refers to the mass protests in November 1969 against Japanese prime minister Eisaku Sato’s visit to the United States. This war is assuredly and emphatically not “the War” that serves as the main historical landmark for characters in other Oshima films, providing a (false) explanation and excuse for their actions (as with the officials in Death by Hanging and the father in Boy [1969]). The Man Who Left His Will on Film places itself within a later history, one perhaps not yet readable at the time it was made.

This is another one like Death By Hanging where Oshima seems to be making broad artistic statements using archetype characters rather than creating any sort of realistic drama. But this one is more sensual, less intellectual than Death By Hanging, and possibly my favorite Oshima movie so far.

A wandering sex-obsessed streaky-haired misfit meets a slow-moving, angsty suicidal army deserter (Kei Sato, male lead in Onibaba). They walk off together when they come across gangsters digging up a cache of guns – so they follow, or possibly are taken prisoner (but she never stops acting like she’s in charge). Soon added to the mix are a gun-crazy boy and two killers: a double-knife-wielding psycho killer and a calm older man with a pistol (Taiji Tonoyama, armor merchant in Onibaba).

Up until now, I don’t think the characters had any names, but the internet tells me she is Nejiko and her death-obsessed man is Otoko. Along comes head honcho Television (Rokko Toura, the doctor in Death By Hanging), bringing news that a white sniper is on the loose, and that the gang fight they’ve been preparing for is cancelled because the bosses were caught by police at the airport.

What’s a bunch of battle-hungry armed criminals to do? The gun-nut kid wanders away and kills a couple people, but that’s not enough. So Television drives them out to the city (stopping to murder the knife guy) where they cautiously approach the sniper, then join him shooting at cops.

Recurring person-shaped indentations, water spots and stains strangely remind me of Pulse. Criterion calls this a “devilish, absurdist portrait of what [Oshima] deemed the death drive in Japanese youth culture.” Glad I watched this the same month as Black Sun, another movie featuring a murderous American teaming with death-defying youth.

Oshima:

Otoko definitely does not want to die. He wants to live, and that is precisely why he has premonitions of death. In other words, in instances where Otoko appears at a glance to want to die, he actually wants to live, and that is beautiful -more so than Nekijo’s straightforward desire to live. In this way, the two embrace two things that have something basic in common, and they are attracted to each other because it is manifested in polar opposite forms. It is absolutely incorrect to judge this work as a diagram that reads: Nekijo = Life, Otoko = Death.

“I failed to die again, and now I’m alone.”

When I have the time, I’d like to watch and enjoy more movies by Ozu and Naruse, by Kurosawa and Masumura, Shindo and Imamura. Oshima is the only one I feel I ought to study. The movies are fun to watch and enjoy like the others, but I feel like I immediately need to see them again and figure out what they are up to. This one was at least more of a story (like Empire of Passion) than a political abstraction (like Death By Hanging), but still crazy enough that I’m sure I missed a lot.

Shino:

Matsuko:

It took a while to figure this out, but here goes. Eisuke (Kei Sato, male lead in Onibaba but looking more brutal/evil here) is the “high-noon” rapist/killer terrorizing Japan. Two women are irrationally in love with him: his wife Matsuko (Oshima regular Akiko Koyama), a teacher, and a young girl named Shino. Eisuke had “rescued” Shino when she tried to die with her boyfriend Genji (Rokko Toura, “Television” in Japanese Summer: Double Suicide) who knows how long ago, and now feels free to rape her anytime. When he’s finally caught and sentenced, the two women go into the woods to die together by poison, but Shino awakens, still alive.

The High-Noon Killer:

Tragic Genji:

I guess it’s not that hard to figure out the story after all, but I was distracted by the ridiculously great/nuts camerawork and editing for at least the first half.

Opens with the title “Are you for or against the abolition of the death penalty?”

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Movie gets straight to the point. After reading Tony Rayns say about In the Realm of the Senses that “there is no thing as the Oshima style,” I thought I’d check out one of his earlier films and see for myself. Sure enough, this has nothing in common with it or with Empire of Passion – it’s bonkers in its own particular way.

Oshima in 1964: “An artist does not build his work on one single theme, any more than a man lives his life according to only one idea. Foolish critics, however, want to think that works have just one theme running through them. Then when they find something that contradicts that one theme, they immediately say that they don’t understand the work. Our work has nothing to do with these foolish critics. We want to put into it everything we are thinking and experiencing now; if we didn’t, creative work would have no meaning for us.”

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R., a rapist and murderer, is hung but seems unhurt. Since his body won’t die, they rule him demented – but now he can’t be killed because a demented man can’t realize his guilt and understand punishment. The surly chaplain says they can’t even pray for him because last rites have already been administered. R. seems to have amnesia, so the men in the room (prison officials, doctor and so on) act out his crimes to jog his memory. They tell him his history, convince him he is Korean, awaken his mind and memory in order to kill him again.

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They get really into their re-enactments – the education minister (above) imagines that he has actually killed a girl on the roof of a building and the others think him hysterical – then one by one they begin to see the dead girl – then she’s not dead at all, rises up and starts to talk with R, says she’s his sister. The men are upset because R never had a sister, but that falls by the wayside, and eventually she and R are lying on the floor apparently naked under a sheet while the men all argue and cry and hallucinate around them. It’s that kind of movie. With its loooong shots and loose, imprecise framing, single location and shouty characters, it could’ve easily been done as a play.

Akiko Koyama, an Oshima regular, as the mysterious Korean woman:
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Oshima 1964: “Unless you see people living in their own country, their true identity escapes you. The tragedy thus grows clear; the Japanese and Koreans have superficial and uncertain views of each other, and cannot see things in their true light.”

1968: “Death By Hanging had as its starting point the events set in motion by the criminal Ri Chin’u, perpetrator of the Komatsugawa High School incident. In my opinion, Ri Chin’u was the most intelligent and sensitive youth produced by postwar Japan, as demonstrated by the collection of Ri’s letter edited by Boku Junan, “Punishment, Death and Love.” Ri’s prose ought to be included in high school textbooks. Ri, however, committed a crime and was sentenced to death. I had been thinking of devoting a work to Ri ever since he committed his crime in 1958. … We created R, a character who did not die after execution.”

1974: “In ancient times, revolutions began with the destruction of prisons. No, history called the uprisings that were strong enough to destroy the prisons “revolutions.”

R (left) with the priest played by Toshiro Ishido, the writer of Oshima’s Night and Fog in Japan:
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“Death only has meaning if we know it is coming.”

“I don’t want to be killed by an abstraction.”

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Recommended listening: That Man Will Not Hang by McLusky

“If you strangle me, don’t stop midway. It’s too painful afterward.”

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Kichi runs an inn, makes explicit advances on one of his workers. They begin passionate secret, explicit, OH-so-explicit sexual affair. Eventually he leaves his wife, the girl (Sada) and he move in together having continual sex, the sex gets more dangerous and starts involving knives and choking, and finally he lets her strangle him to death.

I liked Empire of Passion so I thought I’d like Oshima’s celebrated, scandalous arthouse porno even more, but was surprised not to. It’s got less cinematic flair than Passion, and less of a story too. I hate to say it, but all that sex gets boring after a while. Okay I take it back – there’s interesting stuff in here… some cool high shots (see below), a wildly fucked dream sequence where the woman grabs a naked six-year-old’s penis and won’t let go, a geisha gang rape, and some political business (nationalism on the streets, an army march – this is the year before the bombing of Shanghai) completely ignored by our sheltered protagonists, making me think this is a predecessor to Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.

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Finally, a ridiculous closing voiceover tells us this happened in 1936 and she was arrested a few days later. I thought this was wedged in by the producers, but in his excellent commentary, Tony Rayns tells us that’s Oshima’s own voice.

There’s more weirdness involving an egg, pubic hair consumption, fantasies of Sada killing Kichi’s wife, and a quirky dancing man. The girl has a scorpion tattoo on her ear – Tony didn’t tell us the relevance of that, so perhaps it has no relevance, because Tony knows all. The two have a fake marriage ceremony at an inn (not his inn, this is after they’ve run away) which leads to the geisha gang-rape and the quirky dancing man (below). I am already out of things to say… it’s a pretty simple movie for something so controversial.

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Produced by Wakamatsu Koji (United Red Army), produced and suggested by Anatole Dauman (Hiroshima mon amour, Masculin Féminin, some Walerian Borowczyk features, Fruits of Passion, La Belle captive, Wings of Desire and Marker’s Level Five – wow).

Original title was Empire of the Senses. I assume the Mekons song Empire of the Senseless, with its lyrics about censorship, is referencing that. Oshima’s chosen Japanese title Ai no corrida (translated: Love’s Bullfight) looks to me like Spanish for Hey! No Running.

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Tony Rayns:
“Oshima sees himself as standing apart from the consensus. For him, anybody who breaks the bounds of convention, anyone who dares to think for him or herself is in some sense an admirable figure,… hence an overall focus, I think, on the figure of the outlaw in many of his films.”

Most of the people in the film are women, including all the voyeurs (and there are many voyeurs). At the very beginning, a woman tries to initiate some lesbian sex with our hero and is rejected outright. Tony tells us these things explicitly delineate Senses from standard porn films.

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More Tony:
“No two Oshima films look alike – there is no thing as the Oshima style.”

The geishas all falling upon each other as Sada has painful menstrual sex is “not a realistic detail.”

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Girl who played Sada appeared the next year in a Kinji Fukasaku film with Sonny Chiba, otherwise not too many acting roles, while Kichi became a fairly successful actor. Typical. Although he was also a known actor before this, while she was just starting out in movies (previously in Terayama Shuji’s theater group). The actor playing an old tramp (glimped in the top screenshot) played the father in Kaneto Shindô’s Naked Island. Oshima didn’t finish his l’amour fou trilogy, and only made three more features and a couple documentaries over the next twenty years.

Seki (Kazuko Yoshiyuko of Lady Snowblood 2, Kikujiro) is married to a decent guy, the town’s rickshaw driver Gisaburo (Takahiro Tamura of 24 Eyes, Seisaku’s Wife), but young Toyoji (Tatsuya Fuji, the killer’s father in Bright Future) falls in love with her and ruins all that. One night, in an unexpectedly frank bit of sexuality (later note: not frank at ALL after watching In the Realm of the Senses), he’s going down on her and orders her to shave. A couple hours later he matter-of-factly tells her that since she’s shaved, her husband will suspect them, so they’d better kill him. So they do, strangling the guy and dropping him down a well. Three years later the townspeople haven’t seen their taxi driver around but his ghost has been spotted, Toyoji seems to spend an awful lot of time at Seki’s house and is seen lingering at the well, Seki’s daughter is asking questions and nobody doubts what’s going on… only a matter of time before the cops (led by Takuzo Kawatani of The Burmese Harp and Battles Without Honor & Humanity) catch up and hang ’em. But things get worse before that – Toyoji kills the young master of the property where he works and Seki goes blind.

As with Senses, this is based on a true murder from 1896. This one has more town life in it, more theatrically heightened colors, maybe more traditionally studio-looking shots. A very Japanese (pre-Ring) ghost, Gisaburo dressed as he was when he died with an all-white face, wordless. Some wonderful shots from inside the well, as seen on the box art. I failed to get screen shots, so I’ve stolen a couple from DVD Beaver. I liked the movie a whole lot… not a groundbreaking story, but well told with a nice visual style.

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If I may quote heavily from Tony Rayns’ great essay:

What intrigued Oshima so much in the story of Gisaburo and Seki? First and foremost, the fact that it bore witness to an eruption of amour fou in a social setting where such passions were previously unrecorded. Western literature from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century—from Geoffrey Chaucer to Émile Zola—had acknowledged and explored the sex lives of the rural peasant class, but there was no real Japanese equivalent; the bawdy fiction of the Edo period had dealt exclusively with the love lives of the samurai and merchant classes. Oshima responded to the factual account of a torrid affair between a married mother of two and a recently discharged soldier twenty-six years her junior. … He recognized the story as an interesting counterpoint to the one he had told in In the Realm of the Senses. Sada and Kichi had retreated from the increasingly militarized Japan of 1936 into a private world powered by their own sexual fantasies; Seki and her lover, Toyoji, lived out their adulterous passion in a world circumscribed by the laws of nature and the rural traditions of village life. For Oshima, the key element in the story was their defiance: the realization that their affair and their murder of Seki’s husband would be exposed rekindled their passion and made them recklessly indifferent to their punishment.

Oshima has said that he reads the tradition of vengeful spooks as a phenomenon related to the militarist code of Bushido—which he has always vehemently rejected. He sees Gisaburo’s ghost as coming from somewhere very different; he once told me, “The ghost in Empire of Passion is a farmer’s idea of a ghost, not a samurai’s.” Gisaburo, in fact, accepts his sad fate as passively as Kichi succumbed to Sada’s murderous fantasies in In the Realm of the Senses. He doesn’t return to the village as a ghost because he wants revenge but because he’s an unquiet spirit; he appears beside his old rickshaw because he wants to go on serving his wife and the villagers, and beside the hearth in his old home because he still wants the comforts of a pot of warmed shochu liquor. He represents, of course, the guilty conscience of his murderers, not assuaged by emptying dead leaves into the well where his body was dumped, and the collective disquiet of the community that a crime has gone unpunished.

Where is Oshima himself in all of this? … The figure he is closest to is the village’s young master, who also represents the author in Nagatsuka’s novel; he’s the most educated person in the community, the most clear-sighted, and the most ineffectual. First seen at his wedding ceremony, he’s played by Kawarazaki Kenzo, the same actor who stood in for Oshima in the tortured family saga The Ceremony. The young master stands for modernization and “progressive” ideas, but he’s fated to be silenced by an ex-soldier who can think no further than self-preservation. The character’s death suggests that the pessimism that led Oshima to abandon filmmaking in the early 1970s was undimmed.

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Oshima:

The space in Senses was delineated by the different rooms of love. It was artificially created, completely designed for voluptuousness. On the other hand, in Passion it is all about nature. Seki has a house where she lives with her husband, and Toyoji a small hovel that he shares with his young brother. Neither of these places is artificial. The two lovers live in fear because they constantly feel threatened by nature. I am trying to depict the human condition in its primal stage. In that sense, my new film goes back to the roots of all life, much more deeply than Senses ever did. The lovers seem cast into hell because of their sexual urges, but in my opinion, the rumbling of the earth, the murmur of the wind, the rustling of the trees, the songs of the birds and insects, in short, all of nature, is guiding the couple into hell. And the ghost itself is part of nature. Neither sex nor love has any meaning. Life itself has no meaning. And if it doesn’t have meaning, isn’t it hell? All I can do is express and project before you this human life devoid of any meaning, this hell that for me is always beautiful.

I found, several years after directing my first films, that I was very attracted to these two topics, sex and crime. Subsequently, my films have addressed them in a very analytic way. Today, I’m at a stage where I simply like to project the naked reality of sex and crime before the spectator’s eyes.