DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

THE SUN'S BURIAL (TAIYO NO HAKABA) (aka: TOMB OF THE SUN) (director/writer: Nagisa Oshima; screenwriter: Toshiro Ishido; cinematographer: Takashi Kawamata; editor:  Keiichi Uraoka; music:  Riichiro Manabe; cast: Kayoko Honoo (Hanako), Eitaro Ozawa (Agitator), Masahiko Tsugawa (Shin), Kei Sato (Dr. Sakaguchi), Isao Sasaki (Takeshi), Fumio Watanabe (Yosehei), (Tatsu), Kamatari Fujiwara (Batasuke, peddler), Tanie Kitabayashi (Chika, Batasuke's Wife), Gen Shimizu (Ohama), Kunie Tominaga (Raped Girl), Junzaburô Ban (Yotsematsu, Hanako's father); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tomio Ikeda; New Yorker Video; 1960-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

"Oshima offers an unsettling portrait of an amoral and ruined postwar Japan."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Japanese writer-director Nagisa Oshima ("In The Realm of the Senses"/"Empire of Passion"/"Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence") offers in his own inimical lurid visually pleasing style his bleak look at Japan's future prospects in this violent underworld tale taking place in a hellhole slum in postwar Osaka, at a time of an economic depression where teenage gangs fight for turf, the gangs run a heartless prostitution ring treating the girls like dirt, theft is a normal way of life for the gangs and if a gang member fails to steal enough he's beaten, and a blood-collecting scam thrives as dockworkers earn extra money by selling their blood to a shady clinic run by an unscrupulous doctor (Kei Sato) who is partnered with a gang for protection. The clinic then sells the blood to cosmetic companies in the black market.

The slum is composed of the disenfranchised living in shacks, where a fickle survivor prostitute Hanako (Kayoko Honoo) resourcefully plays off the older gang leader Ohama (Gen Shimizu) with the youthful rival gang leader Shin (Masahiko Tsugawa), who muscles his way into the rival's prostitution turf and his clinic money-making racket. Recruited into Shin's gang is wide-eyed sensitive drifter punk Takeshi (Isao Sasaki), who sleeps with Hanako and prospers from his gang membership but has second thoughts after witnessing a rape in the park by one of his gang and is conflicted about leaving the gang, viewed as family, that treated him decently since he arrived destitute. Into this mix of slum misfits arrives the drifter, lazy bum known only as the Agitator (Eitaro Ozawa). He's a hand-grenade carrying delusional, disgruntled and deranged war vet, who advocates military extremist views to restore the Empire and urges his fellow tramps to stockpile weapons for the inevitable attack by Russia and the start of World War III. Preaching to the downtrodden tramps of a better world, the Agitator establishes his own blood bank and bucks the other gangs until he's exposed as a fraud.

Oshima offers an unsettling portrait of an amoral and ruined postwar Japan, as he depicts the chaos, pessimism and loss of nationalism, the loss of the Japanese identity and loss of culture in the war's aftermath. It's a hard-hitting study of Japan's postwar moral decay and sense of irrelevance in the world, and projects that its future is now tied to a western-like materialism that will change its core values forever and for the worse. The buried sun from the title is the one on the country's imperial flag, and indicates a state of hopelessness for modern Japan. I felt the power of the film even though I found the plot hard to follow because there were too many undeveloped characters coming in and out and the story line with its many subplots was too extensive to completely follow and its unsympathetic characters made it difficult to care that much about them except as symbolic figures.

REVIEWED ON 8/3/2014       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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