Saturday, May 7, 2011

Everything is Fine: Tomorrow's Sun (1959)

Oshima's career started up with what looks like a candy-colored film of pure excitement. Young, attractive kids run across the frame in bright clothes, they sing and dance, fight with swords without an ounce or drop of blood letting and relax on the beach. There are no financial problems, no real violence, girls are always cute and relationships always work out. Even the title of Tomorrow's Sun (Asu no taiyo) (1959) builds up good feelings. Even when the sun goes out for the day, there's always tomorrow, right?

Tomorrow's Sun (Asu no taiyo) (1959) Dir. Nagisa Oshima

But we has Oshima's entire body of work to show otherwise and in retrospect, it makes Tomorrow's Sun look so much more subversive by what it doesn't show us. It instead shows us an idealized modern Japan of positive youth, bright skies and where in a chanbara pic, the good guy always prevails. This doesn't take away any of the fun from the short and in time makes it look like a spot on parody of Japanese teen cinema.The film was done in part to prove to the higher-ups at Shochiku that he was a team player and that all those years as an assistant director paid off. He could finally stretch his legs and show that he can make a visually appealing and cute film so that Shochiku could be convinced Oshima was ready for a full-length feature. To showcase all the broad spectrum of material he could cover, Oshima combines all the genres that were money makers in the sixties: beach teens romps, American style musical, crime, romance, chanbara and the light drama.

It's unusually frothy and fun for Oshima that to think he who would immediately follow it up with A Street of Love and Hope (Ai to kibo no machi) (1959), a film without love and hope and filled with the beginnings of Oshima's pet themes, is nothing short of a shock. But he had to convince and work his way up until he was given enough artistic leeway to get to make the films he wanted. It seems to be the problem so many filmmakers face at some point: how to make movies with artistic control when you work for a studio and how do you get away with it? Tricking Shochiku with the promise of making movies that can make money against personal films seems to have been the perfect way for Oshima to squeeze his way in.

This doesn't mean the film is empty fluff. The film is done in the style of a faux-trailer that showcases the talent of Shochiku's young stars. It's so consciously happy and normal that there's a strange feeling in seeing nothing but smiling faces, bright colors and goofball antics for its entire six minutes. Oshima knew to have fun with what material he was approaching and to give it style, so in typical Oshima style it's visually fantastic from it's minimalistic sets of Edo period japan to the musical sets that wouldn't look so out of place in a late-fifties MGM musical. And like always, Oshima's strong eye for interesting compositions gives the film a certain unique visual style.

The visual compositions and style certainly help considering there are no subtitles on the film and my inability to understand the Japanese language makes the film solely communicative visually. And like any good film, it can communicate so much just by visual language (it helps though that it doesn't seem very heavy on dialogue aside from several girls announcing everything in the background).

Check out the film for yourself. A kind soul uploaded a very good quality copy on YouTube for all to watch (sans subtitles of course):

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