Saturday, January 14, 2012

BOY (Nagisa Oshima, 1969, Japan)

A boy is caught in a precarious nexus between patriarchal authority and maternal inferiority, an abused and nameless shell drowning in a sea of domestic untranquility. Director Nagisa Oshima’s Stygian dramaturgy masquerades as melodrama but runs deep with polemic, a political and social tragedy where an abandoned family becomes metaphor that juxtaposes Japan’s toxic past and brutal social mores, suffocating the present tense.

Oshima's use of a static camera allows a voyeuristic view into the dysfunction of the microcosm, a prescient cinematic style that predates "reality TV" where the act of filming alters the very subject, a quantum deception that subverts objective and subjective observation. But Oshima shatters the image with an enigmatic soundtrack of playful rhymes and vibrato ghosts, projecting reality but embracing illusion. BOY seems like a familial and humanist drama, rather superficial and mundane linear plot, but contains poisonous subtext in the narrative core: one just has to bite deep enough. Each scene is blocked perfectly though the freedom of movement is fluid and natural, allowing balanced compositions of empty space or oblique angles to contradict or enhance characters and action. The boy is tiny and often lost amid the wide angle shots, insignificant against the monolithic city and its machine heart. Oshima's mise-en-scene is a Revelation, an Armageddon of paternity where a father is dictator not only bringing life but ordering its abortion.

The boy's nuclear family reaches critical mass as the police close in upon their scam, chasing them to the very edge of their world. A series of petty scams, faking accidents then asking for payoff from unsuspecting motorists, becomes a temporary (and lucrative) livelihood. Oshima is not limited to indicting the mother and father, he also depicts the "victims" as fait accompli: they would rather pay off the family then report to police or insurance companies. The few who attempt to follow protocol are bullied with guilt until they comply, but this doesn't lessen their responsibility. The boy and his baby brother are never addressed as people by their parents, never given human nomenclature or identity, so a small child dreams of a galaxy far far away, where his true kin will someday come and take him home. For now, he's trapped in a Pater Ex Machina.

Final Grade: (A)

2 comments:

KimWilson said...

Alex, I haven't seen this Oshima vehicle, but if it is nearly as good as Taboo or In the Realm of the Senses it might be worth a look.

Alex DeLarge said...

Though it's very different in style from either of those great films, BOY is definately worth a look. I've tracked down some of his early works like BOY, DEATH BY HANGING and MAN WHO LEFT HIS WILL ON FILM as bootlegs and they are fantastic!

His 60s films are very political and many nuances are lost on me, but I've been reading about the history of Japan during this tumultous era to better understand his context and subtext (see NIGHT AND FOG IN JAPAN).