Obituary: Filmmaker Nagisa Oshima, 1932-2013

Controversial Japanese filmmaker Nagisa Oshima, best known on U.S. shores for his sexually explicit 1976 drama In the Realm of the Senses, died on Tuesday, January 15, at a hospital near Tokyo. He was 80.

The reported cause of Oshima’s death—he had been in poor health since having a stroke in 1996—was pneumonia.

Nagisa Oshima was one of the founding figures of the “Japanese New Wave” of filmmakers. Along with his contemporaries Masahiro Shinoda (Pale Flower) and Shohei Imamura (Vengeance is Mine), Oshima reacted against the humanistic style and subject matter of such older Japanese directors as Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Twilight), Kenji Mizoguchi (Sansho the Bailiff) and Akira Kurosawa (High and Low), instead depicting the inherent hypocrisies and tensions of postwar Japanese society, as well as contemporary Japan in the face of rapid industrialization and Westernization. Politically charged and rebellious, Oshima burst onto the international scene with his second feature film, the compelling 1960 drama Cruel Story of Youth.

But Oshima remains most identified with In the Realm of the Senses. Based on a true story that transpired in Japan in the 1930s, it tells of a maid who falls into a sadomasochistic affair with her employer. One of the most scandalous films to ever be issued in Japan—and in the U.S. when it was first released to Stateside arthouses in 1977—In the Realm of the Senses features unsimulated sex and culminates in a graphically depicted castration.

Oshima directed some 25 features, along with numerous television documentaries and series. Among  his later films are 1983’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, a prisoner-of-war drama starring David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto, and 1986’s the farcical Max Mon Amour, which pairs Charlotte Rampling and a chimpanzee.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.