The sun is the crimson one in the imperial flag, given a scalding funeral in Nagisa Oshima's implacable view of postwar scavenging. Follow-up and companion piece to Cruel Story of Youth, neon splashed across the widescreen, the outsiders' restless violence writ communal, or perhaps national -- "No hope for Japan now," grouses Osaka slum dweller Junzaburo Ban, yet Oshima perversely locates a chance for the future in Kayoko Honoo, his daughter, whose ruthlessness in exploiting the local men (and herself) points toward the toll of surviving amid the ashes. "Buy blood by day, sell flesh by night" is the motto, so off she goes, ponytail and flower dress, mingling with the pimps, pushers, tricks, and assorted scroungers populating the director's send-up of Kurosawa's The Lower Depths, awash in sweaty flesh. People traffic in identities, with census registers sold to immigrants, bodies unceremoniously dumped into the river, and a blubbering cuckold, found dangling by the neck, frisked for cigarettes -- only a hulking factory worker offers a kind word for the dead, yet the reactionary "Agitator" (Eitaro Ozawa) remains the loudest voice, a grenade in his pocket, since "soon Russia will attack." Another World War might be necessary to purify contemporary politics, yet living moment by moment is first in these characters' minds, constricted in rectangular compositions, flatness accentuated by lateral pans. Tracking into the frame signals not mobility but the sealing of young Isao Sasaki's fate, initiated into the underworld by attacking a couple smooching by the graveyard, dirt shoved into the girl's mouth and followed by rape. Honoo sleeps with the sensitive punk despite scoffing at his post-attack trauma, but he's got homoerotic tensions of his own to sort out, first a rotating long-shot in an overexposed field, then frenetic close-ups as a train barrels in. More close-ups, of sinister mugs spliced rhythmically, lead in the apocalypse, a scorcher suggesting concentrated moral decay imploding under Oshima's ruthless scrutiny. Bonfires fill the screen, only to dissolve to the heroine's hardened face, then to dawn -- the sun's burial, or its modernist rebirth? With Masahiko Tsugawa, Fumio Watanabe, Kei Sato, Kamatari Fujiwara, and Tanie Kitabayashi.
--- Fernando F. Croce