Oshima's Outlaw Sixties
Often called the Godard of the East, Japanese director Nagisa Oshima was one of the most provocative film artists of the twentieth century, and his works challenged and shocked the cinematic world for decades. Following his rise to prominence at Shochiku, Oshima struck out to form his own production company, Sozo-sha, in the early sixties. That move ushered in the prolific period of his career that gave birth to the five films collected here. Unsurprisingly, this studio renegade was fascinated by stories of outsiders—serial killers, rabid hedonists, and stowaway misfits are just some of the social castoffs you’ll meet in these audacious, cerebral entries in the New Wave surge that made Japan a hub of truly daredevil moviemaking.
Criterion’s 21st entry into their Eclipse series presents five provocative films from director Nagisa Oshima in a set entitled Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties. The five films included are Pleasures of the Flesh, Violence at Noon, Sing a Song of Sex, Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, and Three Resurrected Drunkards. All five films are presented in their original aspect ratios of 2.35:1 and have been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The first four discs are dual-layer while the fifth disc is single-layer.
The transfers on here look incredible as a whole, in fact I’d call a couple of them, the transfers for Pleasures of the Flesh and Three Resurrected Drunkards, near perfect. These two present very sharp images overall with a striking amount of detail when the source allows. Pleasures style presents fairly muted colours through most of the film but has a few striking moments, yet Drunkards presents beautifully rendered colours throughout its entirety. Both present decent blacks as well, Drunkards’ a little deeper and inkier in this regard. I also can’t say I noticed much of anything in the way of artifacts in the presentation, maybe a little noise in spots but they’re very clean as a whole.
The other colour film, Sing a Song of Sex, presents some decent colours, but its source limits it in other ways. The film has a jitter to it causing it to slightly move up and down throughout, it also looks a little fuzzy or out of focus in spots, but I suspect this is more the condition of the materials. Artifacts are also a little more noticeable here, presenting a few cases where halos are noticeable. This may be the weakest of the set.
The two black and white films vary, though it may have to do with how the film was shot or the overall conditions of the material used. Violence at Noon almost looks to have been contrast boosted, presenting very bright and bold whites, and blacks that look a little too dark, though this could have been the intended look of the film (it somehow feels suiting.) The contrast and gray levels look a little better in Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, nowhere near as blown out. Both look rather sharp with an exceptional amount of detail as well. They also have some prominent grain (all the films in the set do at various levels) but there are moments where Violence at Noon can look a touch like noise.
The source materials have been cleaned up impressively, damage limited to some marks here and there, but they barely register. Other than Sing a Song of Sex’s jitter and slight out-focus issues they’re all in mint condition. A beautiful looking collection of films, probably the most impressive set of transfers I’ve come across in Criterion’s Eclipse line, and as mentioned before, a couple of them look near perfect.
The audio tracks for all five films are fairly average, presenting weak though acceptable Japanese Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound. Dialogue sounds fairly natural in all of the films, but music can vary sounding sharp with a nice bit of range to hollow and tinny. The audio dropped for a split second halfway through my copy of Pleasures of the Flesh, my receiver indicating no sound for that split-second, but I didn’t notice any issues of that nature with the other tracks. Not a huge deal but noticeable because it occurs during a line of dialogue (and I’m not sure if it’s just my copy.)
Despite that one issue the tracks are fine, but nothing extraordinary.
These are all rather intriguing films and I would almost feel they deserve mainline Criterion editions with their own supplements, but alas they’re grouped into an Eclipse edition, which means there are no supplements to speak of. Disappointing in some regards but at least we get decent liner notes by Michael Koresky, covering their respective films, and offering a rather strong analysis of this period in Oshima’s career.
Great set! I rather loved the films on here, all very unique and entertaining in their own way, and they’re all given incredibly strong transfers. While I wish that they could have received a mainline Criterion release it still comes with a hearty recommendation.