Death by Hanging


Director: Nagisa Oshima

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Death by HangingNagisa Oshima's so-called "New Wave" experimental or kafkaesque horror film Death By Hanging is rarely screened except on university campuses, & as I write this still not available on dvd.

The story's set mainly in the death house of a prison, where a man designated only as R (Do-yun Yu) is being graphically hung until dead. The problem is he won't die; his heart keeps beating.

He revives but seems to have a different, more innocent soul, & no longer has any understanding of his crimes. Before they can hang him again they have to teach him what it means to be a rapist & murderer, so that he will understand it is only just that he be killed a second time.

Death by HangingIn the course of the story the diseased imaginations of the warden, hangman, priest, witnesses, & guards begin to spill out into reality, with a ghostly woman strangled to death (but only some of them can see her corpse) & a strange spirit-sister appearing as from nowhere to make love to her brother & debate the death penalty with the killer squad.

It is a curious & intelligent film full of rebelliousness against art & society & politics, & outrage against the death penalty & it's uneven application against minorities (Koreans being Japan's equivalent of African Americans). Despite its polemical nature, it is not all that lectury, because it has a sick tendency toward farce without lessoning the horrific psychological impact of the situation on the convict.

It's a rare thing in Japanese cinema, a film without a genre, unless Oshima is permitted to be his own genre. It can also be goofy in its phantasmagoric content & recurringly boring. It requires a forgiving mood (forgiving especially the self-indulgence of the whole thing) & a willingness to go along on a slowly paced ride.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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