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Fists, youth, and protest : Oshima Nagisa’s filmic rebellion in 1960 Shepherdson, Kari L.


In 1960, as the heated protests against the renewal of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty raged on the streets of Tokyo, Japanese director, Oshima Nagisa, produced three films: “Cruel Story of Youth”, “Graveyard of the Sun”, and “Night and Fog in Japan”. Privileging tales of angry, young rebels, lashing out at oppressive social, economic, and political forces, the films seemed to capture the frustrated feelings of the protesting students on the streets in front of the Diet. Oshima revealed the inspiration the momentous protests (known as the Ampo Struggle) had upon him and his filmic production by referring directly to the protests and the angry demonstrators. However, I argue his films were neither simple antiauthoritarian youth films nor solely concerned with the party politics of the Ampo struggle. Rather, I will explore the ways in which Oshima's films intersect with the several layers of Japanese history and point to the director's pessimism towards the repeated ideological defeat Japanese generations in Japan. I will discuss in this paper the ways in which Oshima sought out the adolescent audience to existentially challenge them to find meaning within themselves by actively critiquing those systems which worked to define their existence: (American) materialism, violence and crime, and participation in left-wing protest politics. I argue that through these films, Oshima sought to inspire the young rebels of Japan to rebel in such a way that they would fracture their perpetual, easily betrayed, dependence upon abstract ideals to lend their life meaning. To unwrap the possible message Oshima intended to convey to the youthful audience, I will use Albert Camus' “The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt”. Camus' text and the controversy among the existential elite in France after its release help to read Oshima's filmic juxtaposition of protests and personal rebellion.

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