Death By Hanging

Death By Hanging

Rating: 7/10
Year: 1968
Genre: Drama
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Cast: Masao Adachi, You Do-Yun, Toshiro Ishido

Nagisa Oshima's Death by Hanging is a satire on capital punishment and an exploration of racial identity. This film is about R (You Do-Yun), a Korean Japanese who is sentenced to death penalty, but survives from it miraculously while suffering from amnesia. The prison guards have to use all means to bring his memory back in order to execute him again since a convict must be conscious of his guilt when he is executed. Oshima, who used to study law in college, incorporates highly philosophical and intellectual statement with his peculiar cinematic aesthetic in this film.

It is no wonder why Nagisa Oshima is regarded as one of the most radical filmmakers in Japan. In this film, he criticizes the harsh situation Koreans are facing in Japan fiercely and decisively. In the scene when the prison guards are trying to imitate R's family members, the imitations are greatly exaggerated. The behaviors of Koreans are blatantly performed. For instance, when the guard disguises as R's mother, he has to cry in a weird way, the argument between the father and the son also involves dirty gestures. Obviously, the highly generalized image of Koreans in this film has created a lot of humorous moments for the audience, but when you are laughing at it, you should also be aware of Oshima's motive in depicting these scenes, especially the satirical quality of it. The stony face of R signifies his inability to overturn the situation he (and other Koreans) is facing in Japan. There is nothing he can do about it.

Apart from the serious thematic element, Oshima also employs cinematic techniques in an innovative way. In this film, he blends documentary shooting style with the narrative perfectly. Techniques including hand-held camera, on location sound recording, printed chapter titles and voice-over narration are used to combine fantasy and reality. His style is very different from other classical directors like Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu or Kenji Mizoguchi, it is also hard to trace the relationship of his films with traditional Japanese culture. Some people like to compare his style to the French New Wave, and to Godard in particular. To me, Oshima actually maintains his own style which provides us with a non-Western mode of perception.

Compared to Death By Hanging, it is interesting to see the change of his style in his latest film Gohatto. This film is about the homosexual relationship among several Samurai. Although the thematic element is controversial as usual, I think this film does contain a lot more traditional Japanese cinema elements, like off-center framing with an attitude of calmness, quiescence and repose, than before.

16mm (US version) - I watched this film in a private 16mm screening event. The film itself is in black and white, and the 16mm print is probably an old print. It is definitely not in its excellent qualities, for instance, the image appears too dark in certain scenes and the sound quality is not that good. Therefore, I didn't enjoy the screening very much. I think this film is not available on DVD yet. I wish some HK or US distributors would consider remastering it on DVD and I am eagerly waiting for its release.

Cool guy(s) - You Do-Yun

Reviewed by: Kantorates