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Sunday, January 29, 2017
an unholy trio
by Douglas Messerli
Nagisa Oshima and Tamura Tsutoma (writers), Nagisa Oshima (director) 少年 Shōnen (Boy) / 1969
Nagisa Oshima’s 1969 film Boy was based on a real story from the newspapers about a family that used one of their young sons, called “boy” throughout the film, to scam unsuspecting drivers by pretending they have hit him; after threatening to go to the police, the father and mother generally receive “off the record” payments from these frightened individuals.
The father (Fumio Watanabe), a former Japanese veteran, claims that he cannot work, and, accordingly, needs to stage these scams in order to survive. But his second wife (Akiko Koyama), pregnant with what would be their third child, is determined not to get an abortion, and dreams of saving enough money to begin living a normal life.
Fearful of being discovered, the family keeps on the move, with the father finally living separately, possibly having affairs with other women and returning only for further scams and abuse of his wife.
Several times the boy attempts to escape to their original home city, but doesn’t have enough money to make the entire trip, and each time returns to dysfunctional family unit.
After Oshima’s Brechtian films such as Death by Hanging and Violence at Noon, Boy seemed to some critics to be a tamer move into documentary territory. But the director’s use of red lenses to symbolize the boy’s connection with the mother, his switch back and forth from black-and-white to full color, and his almost dispassionate objectivity of the suffering family, actually transforms this work into a more experimental consideration of social conditions in Japanese society and, as in many of Oshima’s films, focuses on that culture’s effects of World War II.
Los Angeles, January 29, 2017