The children of ’68, adrift in the mom-and-pop scam operation of modern Japan. The father (Fumio Watanabe) blames his lazy belligerence on "war wounds and diarrhea," the stepmother (Akiko Koyama) negotiates a troublesome pregnancy and hurls herself into traffic to collect settlements from drivers. Meanwhile, the Boy (Abe Tetsuo) plays hide-and-seek with himself and regales his toddling half-brother (Tsuyoshi Kinoshita) with tales about Andromeda space men. Soon enough, the 10-year-old takes his place in the clan’s soul-bruising ruses: "Remember, no taxis and no fast cars, just delivery trucks and female drivers." Tabloid headlines dictate the structure, Nagisa Oshima fills it with mordant societal prisms and desolate, subtly extraterrestrial colors. Midway through, the characters treat themselves to a fancy meal at a geisha inn -- a servant sighs admiringly about their surface unity, yet the view remains from the lost child’s vantage point (peeping through a hole in the wall, the Boy breaks the familial tableau down into isolating vertical gaps). Does it take such materialistic pressure to disfigure the domestic unit, or has harmony always been an illusion, like the graceful families of Ozu or the unseen grandmother the young protagonist vainly tries to run away to? The chilling development is from bustling ghost cities to a blue-ice countryside inferno, "the edge of Japan" that exposes the new generation’s muted cry as it falls on deaf ears. "I don’t think anything about anything." "Now go play somewhere." Can something this acrid really be Oshima’s most "straightforward" and "humanistic" work? The snowmen from Meet Me in St. Louis put in a telling appearance, Kiyoshi Kurosawa in Tokyo Sonata revisits the central image (the child as a tiny imperial uniform in a snowy void). With Do-yun Yu.
--- Fernando F. Croce