The One about Nagisa Oshima’s “Three Resurrected Drunkards”

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Nagisa Oshima, one of Japan’s most controversial filmmakers and one of the founders of the Japanese New Wave, Oshima was known for taking on Japanese taboos and creating films against the status quo, the filmmaker has been doing his style of films since 1959 and working for the studio Shochiku in order to fulfill the studio’s desire of creating edgier material for the youth market. Oshima would go on to create three films which were known as “The Youth Trilogy” (“Cruel Story of Youth”, “The Sun’s Burial”, “Night and Fog in Japan”).

After politics played a part in Oshima leaving Shochiku, the filmmaker would go on to create his own company known as Sozo-sha (Creation Company) and in celebration of his work from his new studio and many fans bombarding Criterion for more Oshima, The Criterion Collection has chosen Nagisa Oshima’s mid-to-late ’60s films to be part of the latest Eclipse Series Collection known as “Eclipse Series 21: Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties”. The DVD box set would include the following films: “Pleasures of the Flesh” (1965), “Violence at Noon” (1966), “Sing a Song of Sex” (1967), “Japanese Summer: Double Suicide” (1967) and “Three Resurrected Drunkards” (1968).

In 1968, Oshima created “Three Resurrected Drunkards (“Kaette Kita Yopparai”), the third film in his Korea trilogy and also a film that would criticize Korean’s treatment by Japanese, Oshima’s attitude towards Japanese youth and also references to the Vietnam War.  But unlike previous films from Oshima, “Three Resurrected Drunkards” can be seen as a film that can be seen more as a surreal comedy or satire meets “The Twilight Zone”.

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At first glance, the first half of “Three Resurrected Drunkards” would seem like a farcical comedy in which the acting and storyline would be on par of a tokusatsu-style (think Ultraman or Godzilla) films or TV series. In fact, the three main characters seem almost like they are parodying The Monkeys in their bumbling mannerisms and facial expressions.

You watch this film and because of its unusual comedic elements, you wonder if “Three Resurrected Drunkards” is an actual Nagisa Oshima film? Especially as the film starts off with a pop tune sped up (ala the Chipmunks) of a song by the Japanese group Folk Parody, you have a sense that this film is not going to be overly twisted. Especially when you see these three young men running towards the beach and watch their odd behavior.

But once the film reaches its second arc and we see this “Twilight Zone” spin as the characters get a chance to relive their lives once again, you can’ t help but be amused of where Oshima is going to take you. Will it become more serious, dark, or continue on with the parody and comedy?

We know how passionate Oshima began towards creating films showcasing the Korean’s treatment by Japanese in Japan and where the filmmaker really drives the point in the second film “Death by Hanging” for his Korea trilogy, it feels as if the creation of “Three Resurrected Drunkards” and his agreement of Shochiku handling distribution for this film, that there would be some expectancy of better distribution. Especially as the film does have a slight commercial edge in which Oshima’s political views are hidden within the film’s comedy and satire.

In “Three Resurrected Drunkards” we see how soldiers would go as far as desert the Korean military and avoid being sent to the Vietnam War (note: between 1965 and 1973, over 300,000 South Korean soldiers fought in Vietnam against the North Vietnamese Army who were assisted by the North Korean military who helped North Vietnam from 1966-1968).

We see how Japan has created a sense of fear by posting signs of people to report to police of any suspicious people (stowaways) and similar to Oshima’s “Sing a Song of Sex”, the male students are portrayed as amoral and people who just wanted to have fun and seem non-interested in the politics. If anything, the characters are quite farcical but the things they are joking about can be quite controversial.

For example, while the three students are at the beach, they try to re-enact the famous Eddie Adams photo of Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting Vietcong operative Nguyen Van Lem point-blank in the head. They do it once again when the Korean general holds a gun towards them and a third time when they steal the general’s gun and ask him to make the face of the infamous photo.

Needless to say, with such actions, the film would no doubt be controversial despite the film being a comedy but unfortunately, the film never had a chance. Especially as Shochiku chose to glare over any reference to Korea and Vietnam when it came to this film and which would eventually lead to Oshima annulling the distribution agreement he had with Shochiku.

In some way, this is one of those films that some may feel is to comedic for anyone to take seriously. While some may feel that Oshima is a true genius for taking the complexities of the Japanese feelings towards Koreans and the Vietnam War and hide it within this comedy. In many ways, some may find this film to be experimental and multi-faceted but personally, I found “Three Resurrected Drunkards” to be quite enjoyable.

Overall, I enjoyed “Three Resurrected Drunkards”. We got to see a little taste of that comedy with “Japanese Summer: Double Suicide” and also “Sing a Song of Sex” but this time around, Oshima went full force and if you appreciate his works, more than likely you will find something unique about the film because I surely did.


 

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Dennis A. Amith