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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
Trivia:

summary
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?

review
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.

conclusion
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

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

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

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Guizi lai le / Devils on the Doorstep

Guizi lai le / Devils on the Doorstep (2000)

Devil? That looks like a very sissy stance to me

Director: Jiang Wen
Writers: Jiang Wen
Date: 2000

Genre: War / Drama
Description: War is tragedy, Japanese occupation in China, prisoners of war, ravages of war, satire, black comedy, inhumanity, doing what other people tell you

Cast: Jiang Wen, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ding Yuan, Jiang Hongbo, etc.

Crew of note: Gu Changwei, who also worked on Farewell My Concubine and Red Sorghum, is the cinematographer

Runtime: 162 mins.
Color: BW
Trivia: Jiang Wen was banned from filmmaking for 7 years by the Chinese Government because this movie wasn’t patriotic enough

summary
Dasan is asked by a mysterious man to keep two prisoners of war, a translator and a Japanese solder, played by Jiang Yihong and Kagawa Teruyuki respectively, in their town until he returns for them. The poor town, under the supervision of a Japanese base close by, is thrown into confusion regarding what to do with the prisoners: should they keep them in secret, or should they tell the Japanese?

review
It is not difficult to find a review for this film, especially since it kicked ass at Cannes. In fact, it’ll probably serve you better to look for a professional review instead of reading my uninspired attempts at convincing you to watch this. Actually, I’d known about this film for a while before I finally decided to watch it. The phrases “anti-war”, “harrowing depiction”, and “black and white” just didn’t seem to pique my interest. I was expecting bullets, dying comrades, and tons of depression.

To my surprise, the movie turned out to be very light, warm, and amusing most of the time, despite its premise. It is difficult to think of Dasan as anything but a comedic character as you watch, and the phrases mentioned above will rarely appear appropriate. But this truly is a movie that condemns war, that shows how people behave during war. The nationalities aren’t important. The setting (which could be anywhere as the town is isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world) is not important. You simply have to see what happens.

The filmmaking and acting is topnotch. The pictures are pretty. Personally, I don’t remember the music, but that doesn’t take anything away. And I should stop here, with an intentionally vague couple of paragraphs. You should watch this film without reading any spoilers, and know as little about it as possible. It will make for a better experience.

conclusion
Okay, I concede that the movie is definitely anti-Japanese, maybe excessively so despite how it tries to accurately depict the war. However, can it really be said that this film is pro-Chinese? In fact, pro anything? Unlike many war films (I won’t point in any direction), there is no hero here, and it is simply about the tragedy that is war. This is an anti-war film.

things to take note of
Color?
How hilarious Dasan is
The message, I guess
The villagers’ interactions

best moment
Whenever they’re trying to keep everything a secret, specifically the part with a chicken

why you should watch this
It will make you laugh, even when you shouldn’t
Jiang Wen
This is a great anti-war film

rating: 9.35

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

similar movies, maybe:
Other anti-war movies?
Biruma no tategoto / The Burmese Harp by Ichikawa Kon
Nobi / Fires on the Plain by Ichikawa Kon
Okay, those aren’t really similar to Guizi lai le except that they’re also two of the best anti-war films ever

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