Trent Film Society screening of Nagisa Oshima’s Boy (1969), Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
Article in Trent University’s Arthur Student Newspaper, Monday, January 16th, 2012
This was just one of the many newspaper and magazine story titles that appeared in 1966 Japan after news broke of a poor couple abusing their 10-year-old son for monetary gain. The crime: the boy would step in front of vehicles and fake an injury as the mother wailed and the father coaxed the driver out of thousands of Yen. While pedestrian/vehicle accidents were common in Post-War Japan – incidents too numerous to bother reporting – this particular case shocked film-director Nagisa Oshima.
In the late 50’s Shochiku Studios had a series of box-office failures and was also witnessing the success of French New Wave productions. This gave them ample reason to fund new projects by their assistant directors. Included among them were Masahiro Shinoda, who we will visit next week, and Nagisa Oshima. Oshima’s first film, A Town of Love and Hope in 1959, was to set the tone for future work. However it was not until Boy, made in 1969, that Oshima realized he had always been preoccupied with crime and youth.
With Boy Oshima would return to making films with “the heart of a novice”, i.e., by breaking with prior films. Not a leap backwards –he had been making political films during the 60’s – but a turn to characters’ inner experiences. To accomplish this Oshima asserted he must not make a sensational film about the accident-faking family, akin to stories portrayed in magazines; rather, in Boy he and his team were to “create the parts that were buried between the incident [arrest] and superficial actions [crimes].” Here is Oshima’s divergence from the real family toward the creation of fictional characters to exhibit psychological insight. Audiences would have known the events – accidents, arrest, brief history of the family’s poverty – but they did not know what drove them to criminal behaviour. This is what must be shown; this is its dramatic element. “I made this film with detachment on the one hand and prayer on the other,” says Oshima. “A prayer for the people who have to live like this.”