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.