Nagisa Oshima, the iconoclastic filmmaker who challenged and subverted the pieties of Japanese society and the conventions of Japanese cinema and who gained international notoriety in 1976 for the sexually explicit “In the Realm of the Senses,” died on Tuesday at a hospital near Tokyo. He was 80.
His office said that the cause was pneumonia, the Japanese news media reported. He had been ill since having a stroke in 1996.
Mr. Oshima belonged to a generation of filmmakers for whom artistic and political rebellion were one and the same. At the height of his career he worked at a furious pace, most productively in the 1960s, reinventing himself as a matter of course. Radical but never dogmatic, his films rejected ideology even as they insisted implicitly that cinema was a political tool.
He remains best known for “In the Realm of the Senses.” Based on a true story that scandalized Japan in the 1930s, it tells of a maid who falls into a sadomasochistic affair with her employer. It features unsimulated sex and culminates in a graphically depicted castration.
The film became a sensation and the subject of censorship battles in several countries. In the United States, the Customs Service barred it from being shown publicly at the New York Film Festival in 1976, calling it obscene; the decision was overturned about a month later by a federal judge.
Even before this defining scandal, Mr. Oshima relished the role of enfant terrible. He was a founding figure of the Japanese New Wave but claimed to detest the idea of such a grouping and told an interviewer, “My hatred for Japanese cinema includes absolutely all of it.” His documentary “100 Years of Japanese Cinema” (1994) concludes with the hope that Japanese cinema rid itself of its “Japaneseness.”
But Mr. Oshima’s great subject was Japan, specifically the Japanese psyche and the damage it had endured from centuries of feudalism and later from World War II. He once said that the goal of his films was “to force the Japanese to look in the mirror.”
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