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December 09, 2005

A Town of Love and Hope

Ai to kibo no machi
Nagisa Oshima - 1959
Panorama Entertainment Region 0 DVD

"No matter what political system we live under, people at the bottom stay there."
- Nagisa Oshima

Thematically, the debut film,A Town of Love and Hope anticipates Nagisa Oshima's future. In some ways this film serves as a companion piece to Boy made ten years later in depicting the extremes families take for financial survival. Unlike Boy which had the family exploit the son, in Town of Love and Hope, the young man makes choices on behalf of his family. Of the Oshima films I have seen so far, this is his most conventional. This is understandable in that Oshima needed to prove to his studio that he was indeed worthy of elevation to the director's chair. Within a couple years, Oshima would make the decidedly uncommercial Night and Fog in Japan and establish himself as one of Japan's first true independent filmmakers.

This first film is about a junior high school student, Masao, who sells pigeons on the street as pets to make money on behalf of his ill mother and young sister. The family lives in a shack, lacking sufficient heat. What makes Masao's enterprise marginally worthwhile is that the pigeons usually fly back so he can sell them again. One of Masao's customers, the daughter of an industrialist, takes interest in Masao and attempts to get Masao hired by her father's electronics factory. Masao's teacher also tries to help Masao seek a better future, ideally by continuing on to high school, the dream of Masao's mother. While Masao understands that he may live a better life with more education, his sense of obligation to his mother and sister determine his choices.

The poverty Oshima depicts is in contrast not only with the comparative wealth of the industrialist's family, but against a backdrop of a post-war Japan that still held onto old prejudices. Masao, his family and neighbors represent those whose lives were not improved by the financial recovery of Japan. As he would do so in the future, Oshima would examine and criticize aspects of Japanese society. This was also the first of Oshima's films to feature Fumio Watanabe who would appear in several Oshima films including the aforementioned Boy.

While only a handful of films representing Oshima's forty-five year career are available on tape or disc, one can also explore his writings. Oshima not only discusses his own films, but looks at the filmmaking process in Japan, as well as a critique of film critics.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 9, 2005 03:24 PM