domino harvey wrote:
...and Sing a Song of Sex is unfortunately what happens when Oshima lets vile sexual proclivities run rampant over everything in their path. I am not sure what the film's aims were (and I am skeptical of the liner notes' "dream" defense) but I know that the four disgusting dudes at the center of this mess were among the most aggressively revolting characters I've been forced to spend time with in a film and Oshima seems to indulge their whims far more than he offers commentary decrying their antics. So much needless rape flippancy and a drinking song that like bad VD just won't go away only add to the negative pleasures of this picture. I praised the other two films I've seen from this set for avoiding misogyny while being about misogyny, but this one has more than enough of the real thing to make up for the earlier lack. Vom
I hope not to be drawn into a debate I can't win here, since I read this forum too often not to know in advance, Dom, that your opinions are reasonable, your tastes sound, and your dismissals never knee-jerk. But I want to speak up for Sing a Song of Sex because it is my favorite movie. Not my favorite Oshima movie or even my favorite Criterion movie but my favorite movie period. I can certainly see that there are valid reasons for smart and sophisticated viewers to hate it, but here's why I like it:
No other film that I've seen so fearlessly delves into the ways that straight-male sexuality interacts with various kinds of oppression: misogyny, racism, nationalist-nativism, US cultural imperialism, any probably some that I'm forgetting. I see it as a particularly searing indictment of a kind of hippy/counterculture faith in liberation and pleasure which Oshima seems to think has taken over left-wing common sense in Japan; this takeover he sees, furthermore, as part of a general failure on Japan's part to develop an indigenous counterculture. The nativists in the movie tend to be right wing, and the left wingers in the movie tend to be caught up in an American-style peace movement that is too connected with fashion and consumerism to offer a genuine alternative to Cocacola imperialism.
Two characters seem to stand genuinely outside of this paradigm, and these two each offer a political vision that rejects both xenophobia and imperialism, that celebrates sexuality without being naive about it's relationship to violence, and that connects to a sense of tradition without doing so in the name of racism or xenophobia:
the professor (whose name escapes me right now) and Kanade.
These are, not coincidentally, the two characters who introduce the bawdy songs to which the title refers.
They are also the two characters whom the four boys most glaringly fail to protect.
I won't pretend to know exactly what that means, but I think it constitutes enough of a pattern that I'm willing to think through the film until I understand it better, confident that I'm headed toward something.
Most compelling to me is Kanade,
who's "woman's song" - sung in the voice of a Korean prostitute addressing a Japanese soldier - introduces a way of talking about sex that foregrounds how it can be used as tool of racist, sexist, imperialist, and economic oppression all at once; but her song still manages a kind of melancholy recognition of what is pleasurable in sex, too. It's a really beautiful moment, and one for which she pays an agonizing price.
Sex, Oshima seems to be saying, and in particular the willingness to sing/talk explicitly about sex, does
have the potential to make us more free, but the sanitized, consumer-friendly, so-called "sexual revolution" coming from the west will only liberate those who already blandly reject every moral code; for women, racial minorities, and those who seek to see sex as something other than mere entertainment, this revolution will only make things worse, and expose them to new dangers.
The professor is killed so that his song can be emptied of its political content; Kanede is raped because she dared to think, as a woman of Korean decent, the new sexual liberalism might give her a voice and an audience - might allow her to present a song in which the sexual and political content were inseparable.
Again, I don't pretend to understand every piece of the puzzle, but I feel like I get it enough to recognize that the film puts Oshima years ahead of someone like Foucault as a thinker who welcomes an end to censorship and right wing moralism, but sees through the hollow claims of the sexual revolution, and recognizes that the new sexual liberalism, in its current form, retains almost everything repugnant about the conservatism it seeks to replace. It offers, ominously, a way for men to claim a kind of fashionable progressivism while, in the name of that very progresivism and openness, silencing women's voices and continuing to ignore their unique experience of oppression.