Night and Fog in Japan (Nagisa Oshima / Japan, 1960):
(Nihon no Yoru to Kiri)

The title is Resnais's, Nagisa Oshima brings its sense of the inescapability of the past to a generation's aborted revolution. At its center is a wedding ceremony caught in frontal tableau midway through the first of many astoundingly long takes: The camera pans left and then right to take in a roomful of guests toasting "a new life for our nation," then ventures back out to welcome the fugitive colleague ready to crash the event. Marriages in Japan seem to take place either too late or too early, it is said, the same applies to student protests as the bride (Miyuki Kuwano), the groom (Fumio Watanabe) and the other guests are outed as thwarted dissenters evading Marxist defeat by joining society. A horror movie, a radical's version of the traditional Japanese ghost lullaby, with disbanded comrades materializing as if phantoms -- Oshima isolates them in Brechtian spotlight, their original anthem is a haunting, mocking motif, flashbacks pose youthful firebrands against walls scribbled with quotes ("Cogito ergo sum," "Pendre la bourgeoisie," "Das Kapital") in macaronic anticipation of La Chinoise. The politicized anguish submerged in The Sun's Burial and Cruel Story of Youth is here laid out flat on the table -- the ones who once praised Shostakovich as the "greatest socialist" have turned into "Stalinist zombies" following the betrayal of the Japanese Communist Party, the wedding reception is a wake for the characters' ideals, the group shrunk into the middle-class couple. The format, complete with a sacrificial lamb for the cause, was to be appropriated and reduced later in The Big Chill, but even if American postwar imperialism gets called out during the endlessly unfurling lateral sprawls, the main target of Oshima's excoriation is the defeatist fallout of the left-wing movement he was himself part of, "isolated and nihilist" in its despondency. "False despair is the same as false hope," the claustrophobically mobile camera leaves the ex-rebels with the audience to ponder it outside, night and fog gathering in Japan. With Hiroshi Akutagawa, Shinko Ujiie, Akiko Koyama, Kei Sato, and Rokko Toura.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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