Archive for August 13th, 2012

Death By Hanging (1968)

The movie begins with the director, Nagisa Oshima acting as a narrator and asking the viewer if they support the death penalty. He then goes on to explain that 71% of Japanese people oppose the death penalty and asks if the viewer if they’ve seen the inside of a death chamber. The viewer is given a tour of the facilities and the step-by-step guide of what happens when somebody is executed as we see a condemned Korean man by the name of R going to his death. R killed and raped 2 Japanese schoolgirls when he was 18 years old and has been on death row for 4 years. However, the execution doesn’t go as planned as R is still alive and refuses to die. This has never happened before so the prison officials aren’t sure what to do next. They decide that they should hang him again but after he becomes conscious again R has amnesia and doesn’t have a clue who he is and what he has done wrong. Believing that it would be wrong to execute a man who has no knowledge of his crimes, the prison officials try and jog his memory by recreating the rape and murder. If R starts remembering again, it will be fine for them to execute him but the task isn’t that easy………..

This is quite a strange movie but fascinating nevertheless. It is based on an actual true life case in which a Korean man killed 2 schoolgirls and even wrote a book about his crimes during the late 50’s. Although the subject matter of the movie is completely serious, the story degenerates into complete farce as the stupid prison guards make complete idiots of themselves in trying to recreate R’s life. It is funny to see which is why this movie is billed as a very dark comedy. The movie also tackles social issues such as the prejudice that Koreans living in Japan face and still do to this very day. The guards are racist to the core and make it perfectly clear that they don’t really like Koreans. It is also seen that the guards themselves are not quite so innocent with the story hinting that they may have committed war crimes during World War II. One of the guards in his haste to show R what he did actually kills a schoolgirl in an abandoned school but gets away with the murder. I felt that the movie became more complex as it wore on and I was confused as hell as to what was going on. A woman appears from a casket saying she is R’s sister and that R’s crimes is the only way that Koreans could have their revenge against the Japanese but where did she come from – is she a figment of R and the guard’s imagination? But what is obvious is that director Oshima is pushing his political views to the viewer. He has something to get off his chest and he does so in this movie – he wants to abolish capital punishment and feels Japan should own up to past and current crimes against the Korean people.

The acting is excellent by the cast but especially from Yun Yun-Do as R who displays a calm demeanour while all around him the prison guards carry out their manic act in recreating his life.

I don’t think casual viewers will enjoy this movie that much but those that have an interest in Japanese New Wave cinema and the issue of race/discrimination in Japan today will find plenty to ponder here.

I can’t find a trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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