Criterion Prediction #155: Boy, by Alexander Miller
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Cast: Akiko Koyama, Fumio Watanabe, Tetsuo Abe
Synopsis: A ten-year-old boy is at the mercy of his two parents who pretend to be injured by passing motorists in order to extort and blackmail them for money. Their scheming results in a transient life, continually traveling around Japan to evade the law; meanwhile tensions within the family mount. While the stepmother eventually yearns to move on to a more honest living, the tyrannical father, a WWII veteran who claims to be an invalid from his injuries becomes abusive and overbearing.
Critique: While Oshima is often regarded as the “Godard of Japan,” it should be noted that his cinema is singular enough to deflect any analogous tethering. Even if it is intended as a compliment, Oshima isn’t a regional equal to, but one of Japan’s most historically consistent and prolific filmmakers whose body of work reached a relative apex in the late sixties; following Death by Hanging, Violence at Noon and Three Resurrected Drunkards was his 1969 film Boy. With a stunning examination of the cultural obfuscation that permeated Japan’s postwar malaise, Oshima discovered a brilliant aesthetic accelerant in the true story the film is based on. A family in 1966 had made a relatively good living by scamming people into thinking that they had hit their child with their cars, moving all around the country until their capture. Oshima had said “It made headlines in magazines and newspapers for one week and then it was completely forgotten…However, the incident was so shocking that I did not forget it… though I have taken an objective view, I have also made the films as a prayer–as are the boys tears in the final scene–for all human beings who find it necessary to live in a like manner,” and in this modern “family tale,” Oshima pivots from facile emotional mechanics and filmic conventions and lets the film ride its own tonal and stylistic frequencies. In tune with the titular implications Boy, is in fact from the boys (Toshio) point of view, and, given his age, the film isn’t concerned with objectivity, or haughty moralizing. There’s no overarching need to emphasize the sense of discord in the parents actions, it’s the machinations and the lingering air of unease that has the most resounding effect. Oshima steeps us in the escapist rift that becomes the Toshio’s world, and is often creating sci-fi yarns, recounting them to his younger sister in the wake of the diverting alliances that arise within the family dynamic. Oshima’s direction is, at best, a blend of the subtly unrestrained and meditative; scenes have their own flow while shifting color filters and film speeds. Oshima achieves a moody and affecting intimate epic that’s both profound and personal.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: The arrival of an Oshima film is an infrequent cause for celebration in The Criterion Collection. While the Eclipse set “Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties” is a treasure trove, a number of his titles with spine numbers (In the Realm of the Senses, Empire of Passion, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, and Death by Hanging) have come out over the course of a decade. It’s been a while since an Oshima film has received the proverbial Criterion treatment. It’s rumored that Boy is slated for a release, and it’s been streaming on Criterion’s network since the Hulu days. This release feels like an inevitability.