Nagisa Oshima, 1932-2013

Japanese director dies at the age of 80.

The great Japanese director Nagisa Oshima has died aged 80. He was one of cinema’s enduring sensualists, and wryly funny with it. Though he was best known for his challenging 1976 psychological drama In the Realm of the Senses (Ai No Corrida) - or rather, best known for the controversy which its explicit sex scenes provoked - this rather solemn work was hardly representative of the broad emotional register in which he worked. The film  which followed it, Empire of Passion (1978), is a better showcase for his extraordinary deftness of mood - it’s a brutal noirish love story marinated in horror and comedy that keeps campness at bay (just). His range was something to behold. He could move with ease from the stylised social realism of Cruel Story of Youth (1960) and Boy (1969) to the crisply observed tensions of his wartime drama Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) and his homoerotic samurai movie Gohatto (1999), which was to be his final film. He also paid tribute to Buñuel with the arch, subversive comedy of Max Mon Amour (1986), in which Charlotte Rampling’s family accommodate cheerfully her relationship with a chimpanzee.

Since international publishing laws stipulate that everything this month must have some connection to David Bowie, here’s the singer and actor on his experience of working with Oshima on Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence:

What a tremendous eye he has. He’s so quick with his decisions . . . After the first couple of days, we realised it was going to be one-take stuff - one take, two takes. And that really fired us up; I think that got us through the movie more than anything else, this terrific momentum. You’d go through a scene, you’d be done, and then you’d be moving on to the next scene immediately, so you were always your character, with no chance to see the overall thing.

Here is an overview of Oshima’s career that I wrote for the NS in September 2009.

Nagisa Oshima (left) with David Bowie in May 1983 (Photograph: Getty Images)

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Over tea, the dominatrix told me that keeping a straight face was the hardest part of the job

"There is great power in being submissive," she explained.

As fetishes go it was fairly mild: just a bit of sissification – or, getting yelled at while wearing ladies’ clothing. He was a top entertainment attorney, a powerful man. He wore stockings under his suit to work. His wife didn’t want to engage – so she sent him to a professional, who put him in full make-up and forced him to run around a dungeon in high heels. Jenny Nordbak is younger than you’d expect for a retired dominatrix, stirring her tea in a King’s Cross café.

Nordbak, 29, serviced the movie moguls and lawyers of Tinseltown for two years. As a child, her Barbies always ended up gagged and bound. As a student, she defied a controlling boyfriend by dropping her trousers during a game of beer pong. And at 22 she took up her whip, for philosophical reasons, tired of bad sex and of the sexual politics women often live by: who starts it, who ends it and what to expect in between.

At her sex dungeon in Los Angeles, keeping a straight face was the hardest part of the job – especially during consultations, which worked like therapy sessions to unlock client desire. There was all the obvious stuff, such as the head-scissors (choking with the thighs). But there was also the man who wanted to lick a broom, and the one who asked her to ride a bike into him.

The stereotype is true: the more powerful they were in life, she says, the more demeaning their fantasies. “But I still wonder which way round it came: did they need a break from being in control, or had they become powerful because they secretly always felt humiliated?” She failed to control her laughter with one, only for him to pant in gratitude: “Mistress, no one’s ever laughed at me like that.”

Tea with Nordbak is a lesson in the lexicon of the underworld. Pro-dommeSub-flogger. Boner-check. Often her clients cried during sessions but they were clearly enjoying themselves – so I ask her in more depth about the nature of submission.

There’s a point that some people like to get to, she explains, in a low voice, called the sub-space. “A psychological state like being on drugs. Someone once compared it to a runner’s high. But it’s more intense because someone is inflicting it on you.” Nordbak has been there and didn’t like it much. But submission is misunderstood, she says – “It is powerful to be submissive!” – just as the desire to dominate is misrepresented in Fifty Shades of Grey as some kind of “affliction”, something you do if you’re broken somehow.

In Nordbak’s world it’s rather more nuanced; a dominatrix, after all, is submitting to a submissive’s desire. And working bloody hard. A dungeon pair build great trust between them, and great communication: sometimes your life depends on it.

She’s only once thought she’d killed someone – a woman, at the Burning Man festival in Nevada, who fainted during a headlock. Nordbak ran out of her tent for help, dressed only in boots and a strap-on. Female clients generally came to her because they wanted to learn her ways.

She gave it up when she started to get jaded, beating someone and thinking about her dinner. But her time as a pro-domme taught her to be more assertive in all areas of her life. “How does someone know what you want, in any area of life, if you don’t tell them?” she says. “Another person is never going to read your mind.”

Who’d have thought that S&M, the world of the rope and the ball gag, was all about communication? As with homosexuality, she thinks we all lie somewhere on the spectrum – a little bit submissive or dominant, whether we know it or not.

She is married now with a baby, and writing books. There is only one thing she misses and that is the look on a man’s face when you lead him across the room by the balls.

“They shut down,” she says, passing her palm over her eyes. “They follow you. They will do anything. Every woman should have that experience.” 

“The Scarlett Letters” by Jenny Nordbak is published by St Martin’s Press

https://www.amazon.com/Jenny-Nordbak/e/B01IZ1MQLG

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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