The landscape of cinema would not be the same without Nagisa Oshima, who died today at age eighty. An artist who tirelessly challenged both viewers and himself, Oshima believed that film was an inherently political medium, and that taboos existed only to be broken wide open. Over the course of a forty-year career during which he made more than twenty features focused on social outcasts, the enigma of human sexuality, and violence, Oshima provoked and entertained his Japanese compatriots and the cinephile world at large.
Oshima—who had studied law and and was passionately involved in left-wing politics and drama—enrolled in an assistant director apprenticeship program at Shochiku studios in 1954. “I wasn’t a film lover,” he once said. “It was just that no other company would hire me.” In fact, Oshima had a distrust of Japanese cinema in general, which he viewed as staid and tradition-bound. Despite or perhaps because of this ambivalence, he developed a fervor for the medium and became one of its most important voices, both on the screen and on the page. For magazines, journals, and conferences, he wrote about film with zeal, rigor, and profound intellect. To pay tribute to this great artist, we’ve assembled some quotes from him, culled from various essays and interviews, and illustrated them with images from a few of his visually stunning films.