What better way to disguise one’s anger with the current political situation than through what looks like a quirky, yet poignant comedy? Yet, what starts off as a weird but funny film about three students mucking about on a beach quickly turns into a political satire. In Nagisa Oshima’s 1968 film Kaette kita yopparai (Three Resurrected Drunkards), the director expresses his frustration and anger with Japan’s treatment of the “zainichi” (1), a Japanese term used to describe a foreigner residing in Japan and that is most commonly used in conjunction with Korean expats.
Oshima is known for his iconoclastic filmic style and fearlessness in addressing taboo topics. Born in Western Japan in 1932, his family moved to his mother’s hometown, Kyoto, after the death of his father in 1939. Between 1950 and 1953 Oshima studied political history at Kyoto University and after graduating joined the Shochiku Ofuna Studios, working as an assistant director. In the late 1950s, as the highly oligopolistic Japanese film industry was running into difficulties, Shochiku decided to promote some of its young graduates. It was this sudden change in direction by the studio that gave Oshima his first chance at proving his value as a filmmaker. In the mid-1960s he tried to break away from the studio and start his own production company, Sozosha. Partly as result, the years between 1965 and 1968 have remained a relatively obscure period for the director, despite the completion of a number of fascinating works. In those three years Oshima directed five movies that often deal with taboo topics and focus on stories of stowaways, outsiders, serial killers and hedonists.
Three Resurrected Drunkards is the last of these five movies. The film starts by showing the protagonists, three students, at the beach re-enacting and comically exaggerating a famous picture of the Vietnam War that depicts the execution of a member of the Viet Cong on the streets of Saigon. Eddie Adams’ photograph of a man in a plaid shirt making a grimace, while a South Vietnamese general is holding a gun to his head, is one of the most prominent and famous pictures of the Vietnam War and Oshima references it repeatedly in this movie.
The three protagonists decide to strip down to their underwear and go for a dip in the ocean. While they are enjoying the water, a disembodied hand reaches from underneath the sand and steals the students’ clothes, substituting them for a Korean military uniform and a school uniform. Left without a choice the two students whose clothes were stolen put on the Korean attire and all three of them make their way into town. There they soon experience how poorly “zainichi” are treated in Japan. As Alexander Jacoby argues, “In Three Resurrected Drunkards, identity became a matter of surface appearances: when a Korean army deserter steals the clothes of three Japanese students and substitutes Korean costumes, they begin to experience the ill-treatment suffered by racial minorities in Japan” (2).
In a rather comical adventure the three students are chased by the police through town and end up getting captured by a concerned citizen. About to be handed over to the authorities, they manage to escape. They find themselves in a public bath where a young, naked woman appears – just like Eve tempting Adam to taste the forbidden fruit, she tells them to do to others what was done to them: just steal other’s people’s clothes. The three students obey and are relieved to find themselves walking down the streets in their normal attire. As they are about to dispose of the Korean costumes, the two stowaways, who stole their clothes in the first place, find them and force them to put the uniforms back on. The Koreans who were trying to escape military service hold the students at gunpoint and are about to shoot the three Japanese youngsters. With the help of the young girl they manage to escape and discover just how many Koreans actually live in Japan. It is at this halfway point in the movie that Oshima “resurrects” his protagonists and rewinds to the start of the film – but this time our three heroes know what is awaiting them. They anticipate every action and even ask people to behave as they did before, just to be consistent. Even though they are cognisant of what is going to happen, they do not have the power to alter the chain of events, at least not until they accept their “new” roles and claim to be Koreans themselves.
Adams’ picture comes to life at various occasions throughout the movie; for example, Oshima references it when the three students threaten the girl’s husband with a pistol. The old man makes a grimace just like the Viet Cong prisoner before General Nguyen Ngoc Loan shot him. Later in the movie one of the Korean stowaways is held at gunpoint by the three Japanese students and his placid facial expression disturbs them – so much so that they openly tell him to distort the side of his face the gun is pointing at, again referencing the famous photograph.
This surrealistic comedic drama ends with the execution of the Korean stowaways in front of a backdrop of a stylised drawing depicting Adams’ photo, while the three students ride past it, in a seemingly endless loop.
In Three Resurrected Drunkards Oshima proves once again that he is “[a]rguably the most formally innovative and politically provocative director of the Japanese New Wave” (3). His three protagonists are on a steep learning curve, and what was almost a game at the film’s beginning soon becomes reality as their world is turned upside down by the disembodied god-like hand that steals their clothes and forces them to walk in the shoes of the “zainichi”. With this Godard-like film the director makes use of pop aesthetics to teach his protagonists, as well as his audience, a lesson about morals, racism and propaganda.
1. Mika Ko, Japanese Cinema and Otherness: Nationalism, Multiculturalism and the Problem of Japaneseness, Routledge, New York, 2010, p. 117.
2. Alexander Jacoby, A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors: From the Silent Era to the Present Day, Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, 2008, p. 615.
3. Jacoby, p. 613.
Kaette kita yopparai/Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968 Japan 80 mins)
Prod Co: Sozosha Prod: Masayuki Nakajima Dir: Nagisa Oshima Scr: Masao Adachi, Mamoru Sasaki, Takeshi Tamura, Nagisa Oshima Phot: Yasushiro Yoshioka Ed: Keiichi Uraoka Prod Des: Yoshi Toda Mus: Hikaru Hayashi
Cast: Kazuhiko Kato, Osamu Kitayama, Norihiko Hashida, Kei Sato, Cha Dei-dang, Fumio Watanabe