In the slums of postwar Osaka, the prospects for economic revitalization prove bleak, and the disenfranchised find themselves eking out an existence through any available means. A band of delinquents led by a resourceful prostitute named Hanako (Kayoko Honoo) approaches desperate shipyard workers eager to earn extra income by selling blood once a week to an unscrupulous doctor who then sells the blood to cosmetic companies in the black market. The petty scheme captures the interest of a lazy itinerant known as the Agitator (Eitaro Ozawa), who proceeds to lure the doctor away from Hanako with promises of a higher cut in profits. A military extremist, the Agitator is stockpiling an arsenal under the delusion that World War III is inevitable, and that he can profit from the sale of arms and make a positive contribution to the restoration of the Empire. Forced out of the organization, Hanako turns her fickle allegiance to Shin (Masahiko Tsugawa), a rival gangleader of a theft and prostitution ring. Shin orders the destruction of the Agitator’s makeshift blood collection clinic, and establishes his own blood peddling racket by recruiting an amoral doctor (Kei Sato) at a nightclub by providing sexual favors. Shin also recruits an impressionable drifter named Takeshi (Isao Sasaki), who immediately earns his trust through the young man’s underlying sense of decency and unshakable allegiance. However, when Takeshi becomes a reluctant accomplice to a rape and assault, he is forced to choose between an uncertain future or a betrayal of his conscience.
The Sun’s Burial is a mesmerizing, frenetic, and profoundly disturbing portrait of Japan’s lost, postwar generation. Using fragmented narrative, an ensemble cast of characters, and frequent camera movement, Nagisa Oshima reflects the pervasive sense of nihilism and chaos in the aftermath of war. Visually, Oshima depicts Japan’s loss of national, cultural, and spiritual identity by juxtaposing a lurid color palette against the modern, highly westernized setting of Osaka slums and the red-light district. In essence, the saturation of colors, stifling heat, and repeated shots of the sun on the horizon serve as a visual perversion of the idealized image of old Japan – the land of the rising sun – symbolically embodied by the red sun against a white background of the national flag. The Sun’s Burial is a relevant examination of hopelessness and moral decay – an elegy for the obsolescence of cultural heritage in a modern, and increasingly materialistic world – a provocative indictment of the systematic self-destruction of a national soul.
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