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Shônen (Boy)

Posted by martinteller on January 9, 2014

A ripped-from-the-headlines story.  The boy (Tetsuo Abe) is 10 years old.  He travels around the country with his father (Fumio Watanabe), stepmother (Akiko Koyama) and infant brother (Tsuyoshi Kinoshita).  The father claims his war injuries and diabetes prevent him from working, so they’ve found a novel way to generate income.  The stepmother throws herself near passing cars and feigns injury while the father browbeats the driver into a payoff.  But when the woman is actually injured, they find the boy is a more profitable “victim” and start using him instead.

This is my 10th film by Oshima.  There are still a couple of highly-regarded works I haven’t seen (especially Death By Hanging and Diary of a Shinjuku Thief), but this is my favorite so far.  It’s probably the most restrained I’ve seen Oshima, whose wild style and extreme subject matter is often hit-or-miss with me.  That is not to say that this is a conventional film.  Oshima frequently uses color filters (often monochrome) to distort the view of the world, and the movie eschews not only standard narrative development (the plot is fairly straightforward, but the film is not especially concerned with driving it forward) but also the sentimentality that could be exploited for such a tragic situation.  It is a humanist film, but not one that yanks at your heartstrings.

There are sad moments, but they tend to center around the dearth of emotions.  At one point, the boy proclaims “I don’t feel or think anything”.  He yearns to be an alien, with no mother or father, no pain or feelings.  In a burst of frustration, he concedes that it’s a pipe dream, that he’s just an “ordinary boy”.  The characters are nameless until the very end of the movie, addressed only according to their function within the fractured family unit.  And Oshima seems to think that this state of being out of touch with humanity is a national crisis.  The opening credits roll over a Japanese flag, and Japanese flags are featured prominently throughout the film, placing this family under the banner of national identity.  One of the film’s most striking images is a red boot in the center of a field of snow.  The boot is all that remains of a recently killed woman… the national colors represented by cold death.

It’s just one example of the beautiful cinematography, done in scope ratio.  Oshima frequently frames Abe in isolation, either alone in a vast (and sometimes otherworldly) landscape, or separated from others by vertical barriers.  And the score by Hikaru Hayashi is fantastic, very haunting and avant-garde.  Abe was cast as the result of an extensive search, and his background as an orphan surely aided in his performance as the isolated, hardened boy.  I was also impressed with Koyama (Oshima’s wife), whose role involves some complex variations in character.  A memorable and finely executed film.  Rating: Very Good (87)


One Response to “Shônen (Boy)”

  1. […] new discovery: Shonen and Peggy Sue Got Married (tie) Worst new discovery: Sliding […]

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