In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nagisa Oshima

  • Introduction
  • Synthetic Overviews and Film-By-Film Analysis
  • Special Journal Issues and Dossiers
  • Book Chapters
  • The 1960S and the Japanese New Wave
  • Intimate Others: Koreans and Okinawans
  • Sex and Censorship
  • Television Documentaries

Cinema and Media Studies Nagisa Oshima
Ryan Cook
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0300


Nagisa Oshima (大島渚/Ōshima Nagisa, b. 1932–d. 2013) is a paradox: one of the most iconic filmmakers in Japanese film history, but one whose body of work is among the most iconoclastic. Oshima was a wayward product of Japan’s postwar studio system. He entered the Shochiku Studio in 1954 after studying law at Kyoto University and cut his professional teeth during the studio golden age, but from his feature directorial debut in 1959 he demonstrated the restlessness and unorthodoxy characteristic of the new youth cinema. His 1960 film Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun zankoku monogatari), along with published editorials denouncing the stagnation of the studio system, assured his position as a representative of the Shochiku New Wave, a group of newly promoted young directors marketed as Japan’s answer to the French New Wave (Oshima later said that he disliked the label). He left Shochiku in 1961 in protest over the shelving of his politically charged 1960 film Night and Fog in Japan (Nihon no yoru to kiri), a striking reflection on student movement factionalism, which was pulled from theaters days after its release. He founded his own production company (Sozosha) the same year, and later worked closely with the Art Theatre Guild, helping forge the path for independent art film production in Japan. He was prolific and provocative during the 1960s: both an influential filmmaker and a public intellectual. But despite his visibility, he resisted auteurist assessment. His body of work includes many bold, perplexing experiments, but generally lacks a consistent signature style. The 1960s theatrical films range from the photo roman–style montages of still photographs and drawn images in Diary of Yunbogi (Yunbogi no nikki) and Band of Ninja (Ninja bugeicho) to the Brechtian theatricality of Death by Hanging (Koshikei), his 1968 international breakthrough film. He made television documentaries, and spent much of his late career as a television commentator and personality. His 1976 French-Japanese coproduction In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no korida) tested the boundaries between the art film and pornography, and was the subject of an obscenity trial in Japan. It also placed him at the international forefront of cinematic modernism. Oshima is known for the reliability of his confrontational posture more than for a recognizable style. He interrogated Japan’s postwar democracy, victim consciousness, and political movements as well as Japan’s relationship to its “others” (notably Koreans), and constantly questioned authority. His post-1970s films, notably Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Senjo no meri Kurisumasu) and Taboo (Gohatto), provocatively explore historical subjects through the lens of homosociality.

Synthetic Overviews and Film-By-Film Analysis

Book-length overviews of Oshima’s career take several approaches: Danvers and Tatum 1986 is an auteurist analysis of his thematic and stylistic preoccupations. Yomota 2010 tends toward cultural biography, while Sato 1988 situates the films within sociological reflection. The single comprehensive English-language monograph on Oshima’s body of work, Turim 1998, adopts a theoretical approach, drawing on poststructuralist models and placing a unique focus on the representation of women in the films. Since Oshima’s death in 2013, there have been appreciative reappraisals of his work, including Abe 2013 and Casa and Iriarte 2013.

  • Abe, Kasho/Casio. Eiga kantoku Oshima Nagisa. Tokyo: Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2013.

    A Japanese-language reflection on Oshima’s films, published upon the director’s death in 2013. Abe argues that Oshima tended to choose “uncinematic” subjects that became “cinematic” through their improvisatory energy and confrontations with their historical moment. Abe memorializes Oshima, locating the value of his films in their relationship to their exhibition context.

  • Casa, Quim, and Anna Cristina Iriarte, eds. Nagisa Oshima. Madrid: Filmoteca Español, 2013.

    A Spanish/English bilingual exhibition catalogue published on the occasion of the 2013 Oshima retrospective organized by the Donostia-Zinemaldia Festival de San Sebatián and the Filmoteca Español. This volume includes contributions on films and themes spanning Oshima’s career, written by prominent international contributors and Oshima authorities.

  • Danvers, Louis, and Charles Tatum Jr. Nagisa Oshima. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, 1986.

    An early French-language biographical overview of Oshima’s career that covers the period through the production of Max Mon Amour. The book includes forewords by that film’s screenwriter (Jean-Claude Carrière) and by Oshima himself.

  • Sato, Tadao. Oshima Nagisa no sekai. Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1988.

    An informative Japanese-language overview of Oshima’s career through Max Mon Amour by a leading Japanese film scholar and contemporary of Oshima. Sato’s customarily sociological approach organizes the oeuvre chronologically and thematically, beginning with the Shochiku New Wave context and covering at length Oshima’s 1960s work in television, before moving into the themes of the late-1960s films and Oshima’s international coproductions of the 1970s and beyond.

  • Turim, Maureen. The Films of Oshima Nagisa: Images of a Japanese Iconoclast. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    This is the first and only comprehensive English-language book-length study of Oshima’s body of work, and an essential resource that surveys and responds to the critical literature of the time. Turim is especially attentive to Oshima’s portrayal of women, reading the films in feminist perspective, while also examining their complex relationship to left politics and to the problems of authorial coherence within the field of avant-garde practice.

  • Yomota, Inuhiko. Oshima Nagisa to Nihon. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, 2010.

    A critical reflection on Oshima’s career, with overtones of personal memoir. Considers Oshima’s place in postwar Japanese history and culture. Argues that themes take precedence over style across Oshima’s body of work, above all the theme of Japan itself as an object of scrutiny and critique, and one often rendered foreign. Yomota pays homage to Oshima as a filmmaker who helped shape the times in which the author himself came of age.

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