Saturday, March 07, 2009
Watching Three Resurrected Drunkards with Two or Three Minds
About halfway through watching Three Resurrected Drunkards I began to wonder if it was the right choice for the opening film of the Nagisa Oshima retrospective. This is because, at that point in the film (which is already deliberately, provocatively nonsensical), Oshima essentially pulls the rug out from under the audience’s feet with a structural gag that, without revealing too much, goes on for a while and, to the inattentive observer, could appear to be a projection error.
I was sitting in the back of the theater, and after a couple of minutes people began making their way back to tell me there was a problem. I had to repeatedly reassure them that what was going on was intentional. Some of them became desperate. “How long is it going to go on?!” shouted one distraught soul. “Why is he doing this?!” agonized another. More than a handful of other people didn’t bother complaining and simply walked out, probably convinced that they never need to see another Oshima film. I began to fret and wonder if I shouldn’t have opened with something easier to digest. Washington audiences, more, I’ve noticed, than audiences in some other cities, crave certainty, and they were clearly not going to get it from this film. I began to dread the comments I would have to face in the lobby later.
Things settled down when it became clear what Oshima was doing, and afterwards the comments were actually mostly positive. A Korean friend thought his treatment of Korean-Japanese relations was quite brilliant. Others made connections to Godard and Hard Days Night, and appreciated the political use Oshima’s radical aesthetic experimentation was put to.
After it was all over and I had some time to think, I realized that I had been watching the movie with too much of my film programmer mind engaged – I was too worried that Oshima’s project of challenging the audience was too alienating, that people weren’t ready for it, when I should have been appreciating his cantankerous audacity. Because, as a film fan, I loved it, kind of in the way the masochist loves the pain of the slap. Oshima had created an extra-cinematic experience, forced people to question what they were seeing, caused some of them to make the decision to get out of their seats in anger and confusion to seek answers.
So I changed my mind. Three Resurrected Drunkards was the perfect opening film. Now those who can take it know what they’re in for, and the timid can stay away.