A documentary-like opening introduces a death chamber where an execution is about to take place. Inexplicably, the man to be executed, an ethnic Korean known only as R, survives hanging but loses his memory. The officials who witness the hanging debate how to proceed, as the law could be interpreted as forbidding execution of an individual who does not recognize their crime and its punishment. They decide that they must persuade R to accept guilt by reminding him of his crimes – at this point the film moves into a highly theatricalized film-within-a-film structure.
Nagisa Oshima’s career extends from the initiation of the « Nuberu bagu » (New Wave) movement in Japanese cinema in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to the contemporary use of cinema and television to express paradoxes in modern society. After an early involvement with the student protest movement in Kyoto, Oshima rose rapidly in the Shochiku company from the status of apprentice in 1954 to that of director. By 1960, he had grown disillusioned with the traditional studio production policies and broke away from Shochiku to form his own independent production company, Sozosha, in 1965. With other Japanese New Wave filmmakers like Masahiro Shinoda, Shohei Imamura and Yoshishige Yoshida, Oshima reacted against the humanistic style and subject matter of directors like Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa, as well as against established left-wing political movements. Oshima has been primarily concerned with depicting the contradictions and tensions of postwar Japanese society. His films tend to expose contemporary Japanese materialism, while also examining what it means to be Japanese in the face of rapid industrialization and Westernization. Many of Oshima’s earlier films, such as Ai to kibo no machi (1959) and Taiyo no hakaba (1960), feature rebellious, underprivileged youths in anti-heroic roles. The film for which he is probably best known in the West, Ai no corrida (1976), centers on an obsessive sexual relationship. Like several other Oshima works, it gains additional power by being based on an actual incident. Other important Oshima films include Koshikei (1968), an examination of the prejudicial treatment of Koreans in Japan; Shonen (1969), which deals with the cruel use of a child for extortion purposes, and with the child’s subsequent escapist fantasies; Tokyo senso sengo hiwa (1970), about another ongoing concern of Oshima’s, the art of filmmaking itself; and Gishiki (1971), which presents a microcosmic view of Japanese postwar history through the lives of one wealthy family. In recent years, Oshima has repeatedly turned to sources outside Japan for the production of his films. This was the case with Ai no corrida (1976) and _Max, mon amour (1986)_. It is less well known in the West that Oshima has also been a prolific documentarist, film theorist and television personality. He is the host of a long-running television talk show, « The School for Wives, » in which female participants (kept anonymous by a distorting glass) present their personal problems, to which he responds from offscreen.