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Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

Ôshima Nagisa - Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

Maybe we should poke him just to check?

Director: Oshima Nagisa
Writers: Fukao Michinori, Sasaki Mamoru, Oshima Nagisa, Tamura Tsutomu
Date: 1968

Genre: Black Comedy
Description: Capital punishment, black comedy, racism, non-linear structure, surrealism

Cast: Sato Kei, Watanabe Fumio, Adachi Masao, Ishido Toshiro, Toura Rokko, Yu Do-yun

Crew of note: Oshima Nagisa is also the narrator

Runtime: 1 hr 57 mins.
Color: Black and White

A Korean man is sentenced to death by hanging, but survives the execution. For the following two hours, his executioners try to work out how to handle the situation, and none of them have a clue.

Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

So.. his head goes into the loop right?

I usually feel a little guilty about laughing at black comedies. The situations, under normal circumstances, aren’t supposed to be funny at all, yet the director is somehow able to manipulate a few chuckles out of me. I feel cheated and used. But somehow in a good way.

So I definitely got used by Oshima. Repeatedly. And I enjoyed it.

This is black farce at its finest because Oshima never pulls punches or stops short of saying something he might regret. The film tackles a ton of issues–racism, capital punishment, religion, militarism, if it was an issue in Japan during the 60s, this movie has it–that will unfortunately fly over almost everyone’s heads (probably, unless you lived there at the time). But he tackles all these head on and with very little tact that it’s possible to understand what he’s trying to say, or at least appreciate the way he’s trying to say it. It doesn’t always work–there are times that the film feels too propagandistic and didactic (I can imagine some sensitive people being offended)–but the use of farce to shove all of these issues into a small execution hall makes it tolerable.. even fun.

Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

Well it certainly look like they're having fun

This farce is supplemented by an equally strange and unpredictable narrative structure. It might be a spoiler to say it, but even with the knowledge that Koshikei moves through various modes of storytelling, it’s still surprising when it happens. Sometimes even a little unnerving. The film starts off as a drama, then descends into a mad black comedy, acquires traits of a documentary that quickly spins into surreality, or maybe it was just a dream sequence or someone’s imagination? All without very little warning. Oshima toys with reality in Koshikei, and though largely confusing, the absurdity works. If that makes any sense.

Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

This makes absolutely no sense

If there’s one “problem” with the movie, it’s that Oshima tries a little too hard to smash home his ideas. The movie drags on after a while, and his unfettered criticism of various topics is often too propagandistic and one-sided for my taste. This lack of conciseness eventually builds to a slight sour taste, but not nearly enough to ruin what happens before it.

Oshima’s funniest movie? Definitely! It’s also a good summary of various social issues in Japan during the 60s mixed into a very interesting, and very confusing, narrative structure. Even if you don’t enjoy the serious aspects of the film, at the very least you’ll get a few laughs.

things to take note of
Transition from different modes: faux-docu, surrealism, dream sequence, ??semi-reality??
The issue regarding Koreans in Japan
Oshima’s views on social issues (he’s the narrator, remember)

best moment
Oh **** what are we gonna do now?

why you should watch this
Great narrative structure, though confusing
Suspiciously hilarious

rating: 8.1

Plot: B
Cast: B
Cinematography: B
Music: C+
Entertainment: C+

similar movies, maybe:
Unfortunately I’m drawing a blank.

Kiru / Kill!

Kiru! / Kill! (1968)

Possibly the most spoiler-free cover ever

Director:Okamoto Kihachi
Writers: Yamamoto Shugoro (novel), Murao Akira, Okamoto Kihachi
Date: 1968

Genre: Jidaigeki / Chambara
Description: Killing, assassinating evil, backstabbing, traitors, double crosses, complicated plot, subversion of the genre, friendship, the samurai

Cast: Nakadai Tatsuya, Takahashi Etsushi, Kubo Naoko, Kishida Shin, Tamura Nami, Nakamaru Tadao, Tsuchiya Yoshio, Tono Eijiro, etc. etc.

Crew of note: Score by Sato Masaru

Runtime: 114 mins.
Color: BW

Genta, a world weary yakuza, meets Hanji, a farmer who has sold his land for a sword in order to become a samurai, along a dusty road of an abandoned town. They part, with the latter wishing to become employed by Ayuzawa Tamiya. It turns out that 7 samurai from his clan are hiding out in town in order to assassinate one of the clan’s higher-ups. Naturally, Genta gets mixed up with this bunch, and he must use his smarts to save them from themselves.

PS. The plot is too convoluted, and too exciting, to reveal in detail in a summary.

Whoahooo. This is one crazy movie. Part parody, part deconstruction of samurai lore, part epic chambara, there is just too much fun and intelligence in this movie not to recommend it to everyone. There will be some comments about how out of place or shallow its comedy is, but if you know enough about Japanese history, the chambara film genre and this film’s contemporaries, and Okamoto’s other films such as Akage, you will be able to pick up on a more substantial level of laughter. Many of Kiru’s funniest moments aren’t even jokes; it is simply the situation the characters find themselves in, and the events that seem inevitable to take place. In fact, the pace of the movie is perfect, and none of the twists seem absurd, even though this film somehow relies on the absurdity of the period it is set in.

A great performance from Nakadai that ancors everything. He is almost like a switch, moving from feigning cluelessness, to noble samurai, to sneaky yakuza, to badass swordsman in only one expression or less. Everything he does seems natural, and his transformation into the character is amazing. His expressions, his slightly absent gaze, his awkward, teetering stance and walk add to his portrayal. He has never been this funny, and if you’ve mostly seen him as a badass samurai (Dai-bosatsu toge, Goyokin, Kagemusha, etc.), the change really is quite amusing. The supporting cast full of strange personalities and quirks also do well. The gambling head priest, the innocent and unambitious old chamberlain, the fidgety constantly moving henchman… characters so out of type yet fit into the world Okamoto creates.

If you watch this as an entry into historic, period-correct, existentialist chambara, this might not work for you. But if you’re up for some funny deconstruction, this is a must see.

Perhaps not a starting point for those just getting into chambara, but this should definitely be in everyone’s “to watch” list. Maybe after you’ve seen 20 or so important films in the genre, and have read enough about the period and its culture, this will be a great experience.

things to take note of
Nakadai’s performance
Genta’s comments and insights into the situation
The against-stereotype characters
How many times they say “kiru” (in any of its forms)

best moment
Hanji’s conclusion about his wish

why you should watch this
One of the funniest chambara ever
A great genre piece that defies expectations
My favorite Okamoto, beating out Akage and Dai-bosatsu toge

rating: 8.5

Plot: A
Cast: B+
Cinematography: B
Music: B
Entertainment: A

similar movies, maybe:
Akage / Red Lion
Hana yori mo naho



November 2020