Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Bloom

"The first hundred years of Japanese cinema have been the period of its youth. It will certainly stay young for the next hundred years. And in these hundred years, the Japanese film will free itself from the spell of Japanese-ness, and will come abloom as pure cinema."

Those are the last words (at least per the subtitles) of Nagisa Oshima's narration in 100 Years of Japanese Cinema, the short documentary he made for the BFI in 1994. And that's the last image of the film up there; it comes after the narration ends, and fades into the end credits. Two deeply Japanese figures floating through clouds, just a bit of Silent Era in-camera trickery. Up, up, and away.

100 Years is a very offensive work, as notorious as an Oshima should be, even more so because, while many of his films only offended the audiences of their times, this one continues to offend critics. Why? Because it ignores most of the history of Japanese cinema, and focuses so much on Oshima's own work. But it isn't because Oshima is dismissive; it's because he's boundlessly optimistic. We love the first hundred years of cinema, we will give our right and left arms for them, but we should also hope that, for all of their beauty, they will someday simply be the first hundred years of cinema.

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