Friday, October 8, 2010

Death by Hanging

Oshima, 1968, 114m, Japan

This is a weird, macabre and disturbing film. R, a Korean-Japanese, has been convicted of two murders followed by rape and is about to be hung. The execution fails and his heart refuses to stop beating much after it is supposed to. The movie, starting as a rhetorical question about the morality of capital punishment, quickly slides into a bawdy farce full of gallows humor, often sickly and obscene. The participants in this highly scripted drama are the chaplain (since R is a catholic), the doctor, the public prosecutor, the guards and the officials who have to conduct the operation. The dialogs interlace humor with philosophy, social questions and recent history.

It is a loud, voluble film and the black and white photography within the suffocating confines of the execution chamber, supplemented by the unrestrained ribaldry lays bare the ugliness of the society which makes the situation an acceptable norm. The ritual and rigid formalities surrounding an execution serve to cloak it's very absurdity. The connecting chord of obscenity running through the film expresses the ugliness of killing, all the more if it has state sanction.

The mind of the condemned man is placed under the scanner and examined from all angles to determine the nature of his guilt. The act of killing is examined from a broad perspective. How is the death punishment different from an act of murder? The ring of officials narrate their own participation in multiple executions during the war. And finally R's sister who materializes out of somewhere tries to justify the crime by recalling the Japanese atrocities in Korea. All the while, R is lost in a fit of amnesia, out of which he emerges in gradual hilarious steps, but fails to remember that he is really R, or even if so, the same R that committed the murders.

This is a dark, brooding, outrageous and complex film and is a blend of many themes, centering around the act of killing in all it's generality. It concludes nothing but it's grim and morbid ribaldry leaves one with a sense of revulsion and disgust for the way our world is constituted.

Thanks to Nathanael Hood for introducing me to this unusual movie.


Nathanael Hood said...

Again, it's Nathanael Hood.

But, I'm glad that I was able to introduce you to this great film.

Explicit and disturbing isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it takes a true artist to make you squirm in your seat and feel uncomfortable.

S M Rana said...

@Nathanael Hood Sorry and corrected. Yes, it certainly has a place in the pantheon. And certainly requires a repeat viewing to relish the unusual flavors. It's disturbing because it is meant to be and means business and spares no punches on a grim and serious issue which is dealt with bitter satire.