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  • TBC
  • Drama
  • 1960
  • 107 mins

Night And Fog In Japan

Night And Fog In Japan

Synopsis

This complex melodrama of political disillusionment and collective amnesia represents the first ripple in the Japanese New Wave of 1960s cinema. Nagisa Oshima (Ai No Corrida, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence) directs

About

"We blew it!" Captain America's famous expression of disaffected despair in Easy Rider (1969) in fact heralded one of the most creative decades in the history of American cinema - but a whole decade earlier, a similar expression of disillusionment would spawn the Japanese New Wave of the 1960s.

Nagisa Oshima's Night And Fog In Japan was a bitter elegy for the lost ideals of Japan's Leftist student movement (a movement to which Oshima had himself once belonged), as well as a dizzying retrospective of the internal political crises that afflicted Japan from the end of the Second World War right up to 1960 (when the film was made, and when its principal narrative is set).

If Oshima's film was named after Alain Resnais' Holocaust memoir Nuit Et Brouillard (1955), much as Oshima's later Max Mon Amour (1986) would pay titular homage to Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), this was not just a way for Oshima to ally himself to the new kind of cinema emerging from Europe, but also to reflect, like Resnais' documentary, upon the importance of remembering the darkest aspects of recent history, in order to ensure that the sins of the past do not go on recycling themselves.

Night And Fog In Japan opens with an unbroken five-and-a-half minute take in which the camera pans over the guests at a wedding party. Speeches are made emphasising the harmony that the occasion represents - not just between the young bride Reiko (Kuwano) and her older groom Nozawa (Kenzo), but between contrasting generations and former political rivals who had all recently set aside their differences and joined forces to demonstrate (unsuccessfully) against the parliamentary ratification of an 'imperialist' treaty between the US and Japan.

In the fog outside lurk two uninvited guests who will remind the partygoers of what they would rather forget: the mix of ambition, hypocrisy, paranoia, infidelity, treachery, bullying, cowardice, impotence, denunciation, disillusionment and despair which tore the student movement apart a decade ago, and is now doing the same all over again. As the recriminations fly and long-buried secrets are brought back out into the open, the wedding will have become divorce and funeral too, as Japan celebrates a 'new life' not so very different from the old.

Night And Fog In Japan is a film where everything in the past has its double in the present. Just as the older wedding celebrants, including the groom, had all come together (and subsequently fallen apart) as student activists in their opposition to the first US-Japan Security Treaty (signed in 1951), the younger student guests of the bride are still struggling to come to terms with the failure of their opposition to the second Treaty (ratified in June 1960).

The gloomy Takao (Sakonji), who in the early 1950s had vanished and killed himself in despair, is mirrored by the student Kitami (Ajioka), who has now himself vanished. Even the current wedding celebration itself, a supposedly joyous occasion but in fact fraught with barely repressed tensions, finds its precise analogue in the earlier wedding banquet of ambitious Party member Nakayama (Yoshizawa) to Nozawa's ex-girlfriend Misako (Koyama) - a wedding that coincided with Takao's death.

No doubt many viewers will find themselves befogged by the convolutions of these overlapping parallel narratives, not to mention by the dizzying minutiae of Japan's 1950s politics, but such confusion is of course shared by the characters themselves, so blinded by their collective amnesia that they cannot even acknowledge their own responsibility in their movement's repeated failures. "Even people who have made mistakes in the past have the right to ask questions if they want to change the world," declares one character, but in the end he will be ignored, and so nothing will change.

If Oshima's film, with its endless revelations being played out against Riichiro Manabe's tense string score, feels like a sour-flavoured melodrama, it is also a Rashomon-style mystery, as a complex picture of the circumstances (personal and political) behind Takao's death emerges from various characters' different accounts (presented in a series of flashbacks) of a similar foggy night years earlier.

There is, in keeping with a complaint made by several of the more militant students about their movement, far more talk here than action, making Night And Fog In Japan a rather theatrical affair. Still, if most of Oshima's characters seem forever locked in stasis, Takashi Kawamata's queasily mobile camera wanders through the wedding tableau like a reeling, drunken guest, disrupting any illusion of peace - and if the characters seem content to conceal themselves in the crowd, stylised lighting occasionally isolates them from their surroundings, forcing them out of their own self-imposed fog.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Hiroshi Sakonji, Hiroshi Akutagawa, Akiko Koyama, Tsugawa Masahiko, Kawarazaki Kenzo, Matsuhiro Toura, Miyuki Kuwano, Toru Ajioka, Takao Yoshizawa
  • Director: Nagisa Oshima
  • Writer: Nagisa Oshima, Toshiro Ishidô
  • Producer: Tomio Ikeda
  • Photographer: Takashi Kawamata
  • Composer: Riichiro Manabe

In a nutshell

In Oshima's bitter political melodrama, the wedding between an unexamined past and a blind present turns out to be a sham. It is devilishly convoluted and a bit staid but there is disillusionment enough here to wreck any wedding.

by Anton Bitel

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