Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

'Politics, Porn and Protest': The beguiling world of experimental Japanese film

by Damian Flanagan

Contributing Writer

If you have yet to dip a toe in the fascinating world of the experimental Japanese film directors of the 1960s and ’70s, this book is an excellent place to test the waters. We embark on a tour of landmark Japanese avant-garde films including such gems as Nagisa Oshima’s satirical masterpiece “Death by Hanging” (1968) and Kazuo Hara’s unflinching documentary, “Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974.”

Politics, Porn and Protest, by Isolde Standish.
216 pages
CONTINUUM, Nonfiction.

By the early ’60s, the major studios began to decline as televisions became the must-have item and film audiences fell away. Into this commercial void stepped a new generation of young filmmakers offering often shocking films unlike anything that had gone before.

Pioneering directors like Yoshishige Yoshida and Shohei Imamura rejected both the standard depictions of Japan’s war heroism and victimhood found in many 1950s genre films and the traditional Confucian values of the family unit. Inspired by the French nouvelle vague (new wave), Sartre’s existentialism and Bataille’s theories on eroticism, the Japanese New Wave was also deeply influenced by the mass protest movements of the 1960s against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the Vietnam War.

This intellectual but readable book shows how directors delighted in exposing the cinematic artificiality and paradoxes of their own productions. In a film like Imamura’s “A Man Vanishes” (1967), far from being able to objectively capture the outside world, the filmmaker emerges as a compromised, involved figure, surprised at the unexpected plot development and fictional aspects of his own documentary.

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