Oshima Nagisa (大島渚)

Nagisa OSHIMA (March 31, 1932-) is a film director in Japan. His wife is the actress Akiko KOYAMA. His sister is the actress and producer Eiko OSHIMA.

Oshima was born in Tamano City, Okayama Prefecture. When he was five years old, Oshima's father, who was a professor at (present day) Okayama University, passed away, and Oshima moved to Kyoto City where his mother's home was located. At present, he lives in Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture.


Oshima's early works gathered attention in Japan and he was called a leader of Nouvelle Vague against his wishes. His works were far more political than those of other film directors in his age and he showed a fighting spirit against authority. The point of motif in his early works was always a disdain for human power structures, and he presented himself with a sense of humiliation as a person who was despised in class conflicts.

Oshima received unshakable international fame by his work "In the Realm of the Senses" (L'Empire des sens) in 1976, which presented sexual obsession and the ultimate love of men and women in the lowest classes of society based on the incident of Sada ABE (1936). Oshima's struggles inevitably moved towards researching the minds of people who clearly held a sense of humiliation and social alienation which led to the creation of works in which these phenomenon played a central role. In his enthusiasm for showing work that was unprecedented in the history of Japanese fillm, he inclined his works toward the humantarianism displayed by Akira KUROSAWA works and hard-core pornography that went up against the censorship system with severe criticism. In order to avoid interference with official authorities, Oshima adopted a style of co-production with Japan and France and sent an exposed film directly to France to have it developed and edited.

When the film was released in Japan, it was so greatly modified by intervention from the Administration Commission of Motion Picture Code of Ethics that the story made no sense. "In the Realm of the Senses" was screened as a revival film in 2000. This time the number of modifications was far less, but the content was candy-coated and the original work can not be seen in Japan even today.

The work "In the Realm of Passion" (Empire of Passion) holds the same theme in which an extramarital wife kills her husband with her lover. To some extent, the film depicts repressed sexuality. It did not gather as much attention as the previous work, but it received the award of best director at Cannes International Film Festival.

Oshima has talent in not only directing and producing films, but also in finding abilities within performers. He selected Beat Takeshi, who had only been recognized as a comedian, for an important role in "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" because he 'could not imagine any other actor' in the the role. He selected many of his characters from people who were not performers or new actors nearly equal to amateurs, such as Keiko SAKURAI ("Double Suicide: Japanese Summer," she had been been a job-hopper before the film experience), Ichiro ARAKI ("Sing a Song of Sex"(A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs)), The Folk Crusaders ("Three Ressurected Drunkards"), Tadanori YOKOO ("Diary of a Shinjuku Thief"), Hiromi KURITA ("Dear Summer Sister," which was her film debut where she played a central role) and Ryuichi SAKAMOTO ("Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence"), making a great success in exploiting their abilities in the works. Oshima also advised Mari YOSHIMURA, who had been a popular fashion model since the late 1950's, to make a career as an actress.

Oshima was a regular panelist on "Asamade Namaterebi" (literally, "a live program until morning" broadcasted on All Nippon News Network) from the late 1980's and flourished as a television commentator. He has expressed that he appears on television not for the purpose of making money for a film, but for a purpose in life. When a member of the Diet as a panelist of "Asamade Namaterebi" pointed out to Oshima, 'All you do is criticize,' he answered with, 'I think what I say on the program has social value,' but he was laughed at by the studio audience.

Oshima has a hot temper, which was exposed when he got upset and hurled verbal abuse at a Korean man (he called him 'bakayaro' ('Eat me')).

When he held a party to celebrate his thirtieth wedding anniversary, he forgot to call the name of the author Akiyuki NOSAKA and planned to make a congratulatory speech on a platform but was beaten by Nosaka who was already drunk. Oshima beat him back with the microphone in his hand (they later wrote essays repenting their misdeeds to each other).

While Oshima experienced campus activism, showing objections against a security alliance and insists on the withdrawal of U.S. troops, he strongly continues to criticize authoritarian activities of the conventional left wing. During his life as a student, he studied under Masamichi INOKI who was employed as the president of the National Defense Academy.

Oshima had originally planned for the title of his debut film "A Town of Love and Hope" to be "A Boy Who Sells Pigeons," but the title received objections by executives as too dark and simple. As a compromise, he proposed the title, "A Town of Love and Sorrow," but it was changed to "A Town of Love and Hope" without his acknowledgment.


After graduating from Kyoto City Rakuyo High School (present day Kyoto Municipal Rakuyo Technical High School), Oshima entered the faculty of law in Kyoto University. Shunzo WAKU, a mystery writer, was one of his fellow pupils at Kyoto University. While he was a university student, Oshima studied under Masamichi INOKI. He was in charge of the president of the student committee in Kyoto Prefecture and involved in campus activism, such as the Incident on the Emperor in Kyoto University in 1951 and the Incident of Kojin-bashi Bridge in 1953 when Rei MATSUURA mandated an expulsion for a student. Since he had relatively good grades, he decided to take an exam to be an assistant in the faculty of law but was rejected. Inoki allegedly advised Oshima, 'You are not suited to be a scholar' (Writings and monthly journal of Masamichi INOKI). Oshima also founded and managed a theater company called 'Sozo-za' (literally, 'a theater company of creation'), and was also involved in theater activities.

After graduating from Kyoto University in 1954, Oshima entered Shochiku Ofuna Studios. He gained experience as an assistant director, then came out with his debut film, "A Town of Love and Hope" in 1959. He then became a leader of Shochiku Nouvelle Vague through big box-office draws, such as "A Cruel Story of Youth" and "The Sun's Burial."

In 1961 Oshima fiercely objected against the decision made by Shochiku Co.,Ltd to stop the release of his film "Night and Fog in Japan" (1960), which was based on the student movement against the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, and left the company. Afterwards, he founded the film making company 'Sozo-sha,' not only with his wife Koyama, Fumio WATANABE and Takeshi TAMURA (Oshima's assistant director, later known as a playwright) who left Shochiku CO., Ltd., at the same time, but also with Hosei KOMATSU and Rokko TOURA.

After the box-office disaster of "AMAKUSA Shiro Tokisada"("The Rebel") in 1962, Oshima began to expand his work into the world of television. In 1963, the documentary "The Forgotten Imperial Army" (Nippon Television Network, produced by Junichi USHIYAMA) which dealt with 'The Korean-Japanese Disabled Veterans Association of Old Japanese Military' became a popular topic of conversation. In 1964 Oshima received the National Art Festival Award for the television drama he produced called "The Deep Abyss of Adolescence."
(In addition, he was primarily in charge of the interpretation, script and composition of about twenty documentaries up until "One Hundred Years of Japanese Cinema" in 1995.)

Oshima produced and released works with both strong political and journalistic aspects in rapid succession, such as "Violence at High Noon" (1966), "Tales of the Ninja" (1967 anime film), "Death by Hanging" (a film, 1968), and "Diary of a Shinjuku Thief" (1969), making him known both in Japan and abroad. The Sozo-sha dissolved after the release of "Dear Summer Sister" (1972), and he continued to appear on TV programs in order to get funds for film production until the release of "In the Realm of the Senses" (1976). After establishing an international reputation with "In the Realm of the Senses," he mainly produced works with foreign funds or when he planned to have the films released abroad, such as "Empire of Passion" (1978), "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" (1983) and "Max Mon Amour" (1986).

Those activities made him well known abroad, and many famous film directors and film critics admire Oshima, such as Aleksandr SOKUROV, Theo ANGELOPOULOS, Martin SCORSESE and Kaige CHEN. Japanese film directors introduced by Jean-Luc GODARD in "Japanese Movie History" were Kenji MIZOGUCHI, Yasujiro OZU, Hiroshi TESHIGAWARA and Nagisa OSHIMA.

In late Januray of 1996, Oshima announced that he would make a new film for the first time in about ten years, but in late February of the following year he suffered a brain hemorrhage during a visit to London. After three years of rehabilitation, he came back with the release of "Taboo" (1999), but did not receive any awards in the Cannes International Film Festival. This was likely due to elements of the storyline involving the Shinsengumi (a group who guarded Kyoto during the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate), of which all Japanese are very well-acquainted as well as the Chushingura (Treasury of Loyal Retainers) and Mito Komon (the stories on Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA, a lord of Mito domain in the Edo period), so there were no issues even if the story presented these personalities and behaviors on the assumption that they were common knowledge. Europeans, however, did not have such basic knowledge, so they were unable to understand the story. Being that he lived in Japanese society, it is possible to say that this was a blind spot for Oshima.

The two film directors, Beat Takeshi and Yoichi SAI, performed in "Taboo" and Oshima allegedly asked them to support him on the set.

In June of 2001, Oshima receieved the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters). Afterwards, his medical condition worsened and he essentially quit a job as director in order to devote himself to rehabilitating.

In 2006, Oshima appeared in the film, "What is a film director?" that deals with film copyright problems and his strong presence is shown in the ending scene. On February 26 of the same year, he also appeared on the platform as a successive administrative director at the party celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Directors Guild of Japan where the film had been introduced for the first time. This was the first time he had appeared in public for four years and eight months.

During the summer of 2008, Oshima's image of devotion in overcoming his speech impediment and paralysis on the right side of his body at St.Terese's Hospital (Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture) was broadcasted on television programs, such as 'Telementary: A treasure found with Ba-chan, a tie between Nagisa Oshima and Akiko KOYAMA' (TV Asahi Corporation, broadcasted on July 28) and 'Documentary Special by Soichiro TAHARA "Stay together even if you forget me"' (TV Asahi Corporation, broadcasted on August 17).

Other Information

His first son, Takeshi OSHIMA, is an associate professor of the Faculty of Art at Tokyo Polytechnic University.

His second son, Arata OSHIMA, turned into a freelance director after leaving Fuji Television Network, Inc. In the program 'Jonetsu Tairiku' (literally, 'A continent of passion'), Arata directed more than ten programs, such as series on Toru KENJO and Yasushi AKIMOTO. In December of 2007, his debut documentary film, "Theatrical: A record of Tojuro and Theater Company Karagumi" was released.

[Original Japanese]