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.
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.