It’s practically a cultural cliche to learn of a truly great artist’s passing and at once see dark implications for their chosen medium. The undimmed majesty of what they’ve given us, after all, contrasts in that moment so meticulously and so cruelly with all that remains. It’s downright reflexive; particularly as the years fly by and one gets older and the truly great artists who pass from our vale of tears begin to pile up. If you ply the critical or scholarly trade, the most effective posture, in the face of this, is to hold oneself aloof and not get too … emotionally involved. We don’t really know these people; not really. They’re not our loved ones; they’re not our friends. Isn’t that so? Usually this posture, once adopted, is easy to maintain. Not now.
Nagisa Oshima passed away today. He was 80 years old, he made his last film (‘Gohatto’) a decade and a half ago; and such was the illness that fell upon him in that time that it was unlikely he would ever make another. We have, then, a nice and contained filmography that we movie reviewers could wade through; that we could (don’t let’s be coy) use as a pretext to hunt and peck and explicate our way through on the road to that peculiar form of glory we’ve constructed for ourselves. No need to get too worked up. Better to mark the occasion by generating the standard cycle of Obits, Appreciations, Memorial editions. More citations made, more allusions amplified, more interpretations and analyses and close readings. More and more words that ultimately reduce and smother; that snuff out that which illuminates itself without our frequently dubious guidance.
I can’t do it … not that I ordinarily would. My only response, when I awoke this morning and read the news, is sadness; a sadness so profound I won’t even try to rationalize it through the lie of critical observation. His passing isn’t about Me, the Movie Reviewer; nor … though many will not bring themselves to comprehend this (how on earth could they?) … is it about the rest of my Critical brethren. It’s only and completely about him.
So let’s just let him pass. Leave the corpse undisturbed. For once. Like all film artists worthy of the term, his work doesn’t require us to be what it was. It never did.
by Tom Sutpen