Saturday 27 July 2013

Death by Hanging [1968]

Rarely does an artist display the kind of audacity that Nagisa Oshima did with Death by Hanging by making a satire as tar black as this on a subject as grim and disconsolate as capital punishment, and that too with such bravado. The film was about a Korean guy given the death sentence for having raped and murdered a young woman. But that’s just the short of it as Oshima used the premise to concoct a pungent, absurdist, subversive, politically charged and formally daring masterpiece. It opens in the form of a pseudo-documentary with a deadpan narrator explaining, in detail, the death chamber and the process of execution. Things, however, take a dramatic turn when the aforementioned guy (Do-yun Yu), known simply as R, inexplicably survives the hanging, and after being eventually resuscitated, turns out to have been struck with amnesia – leading to a state of complete chaos in the death chamber. With the law preventing executing him a second time, that too when he is unaware of his crimes, the hapless and desperate prison guards, the prison doctor, and the preacher, led by an over-zealous education officer (Fumio Watanabe), go about recreating events from his life that led him towards committing the crime, with each playing various characters from his ill-fated life. Through the stylistically daring, trenchant, farcical, ironic, and at times tad rambling mode, Oshima superbly portrayed R’s bleak and tragic life, the collective guilt sub-consciously plaguing the various officials working in the death row, the sulphurous face of rabid  nationalism, and how no crime can really ever be divorced from politics by simply classifying the convict as a social deviant.

Director: Nagisa Oshima
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Political Satire/Avant-Garde
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan


Andrea Ostrov Letania said...

Do you suppose IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES could be called 'death by banging'?

Shubhajit said...

Haha, good one Andrea :D

Sam Juliano said...

"Oshima used the premise to concoct a pungent, absurdist, subversive, politically charged and formally daring masterpiece."

Indeed Shubhajit! Not my absolute favorite Oshima, but this satiric New Wave work is every bit as unforgettable as you attest to here.

Shubhajit said...

Yes Sam, this was really a trenchant piece of work. By the way, I'd be really interested to know which are your favourite Oshima films in order of preference. I'm on a bit of an Oshima journey these days.