Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema
By David Desser

Indiana University Press, 1988
ISBN: 9780253204691
239 pages; Paperback

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Eros Plus Massacre

Though French New Wave cinema was closely scrutinized by Western critics and film scholars in the 1960s, Japanese New Wave Cinema as a whole had received little attention. Individual directors such as Nagisa Oshima, Shohei Imamura, and Masahiro Shinoda had received some attention, but a study of Japanese New Wave cinema and its relation to the culture and history of 1960s had yet to be made. With Eros Plus Massacre, author David Desser hopes to fill this gap.

The subjects covered in Eros Plus Massacre—the title taken from a 1969 Yoshishinge Yoshida film of the same name—are subjects that are important to Japanese New Wave Cinema: politics, youth, identity and its relationship with sexuality, women, minority groups, and other issues specifically related to film such as cinematic time versus real time.

Each chapter generally begins with a summation of the time period and information on how filmmakers responded to these given situations. The film critique is split between issues of social relevance and an analysis of film technique. For those who are unfamiliar with cinematic terminology, some of these passages can seem quite dry, and because of the unavailability of many of these films in the Western market, self-critique can prove to be quite difficult. However, the issues of social relevance in 1960s Japan far outweigh the possible dryness of the filmic language used. It is quite valuable to understand what issues were being tossed about when the directors made their films. Also, for literature fans, it can help to give light to the concerns found in the literature of such Japanese authors as Kenzaburo Oe and Haruki Murakami.

Desser's main goal in writing Eros Plus Massacre was to try to rescue the period's films from a general encapsulation by other Western film scholars such as Noel Burch and Donald Ritchie. As with many other areas concerning the study of Japan, there was a tendency to ascribe Japan a certain type of static timelessness. This means that Burch and company tried to make the culture of Japan quite turgid and unmovable, meaning that the aesthetics of Japan really had not changed since 800 A.D.

This turgidity also applied to film. Because of their film techniques, Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu were considered quite revolutionary filmmakers in the West, but in Japan they were the height of conservativeness. Burch and others tended to state that Oshima and company were the inheritors of the traditions of filmmakers such as Ozu and Mizoguchi. However, this statement is an insult because it does not recognize the changes in content and film techniques utilized by the New Wave directors. Not only does Desser try to rescue New Wave film from "tradition," but he also attempts to paint a picture of the changing Japan of the 1960s.

One aspect of the book that the reader will quickly notice is Desser's less than keen opinion of the scholarship performed by other film scholars such as Joan Mellen, Keiko McDonald, and especially Noel Burch. In his introductory chapter, Desser states that his method of film evaluation is not perfect and that there are many other ways that these films can be studied; however, at some points, his critique of other scholars almost comes off sounding condescending.

A good book on a subject that has yet to receive enough academic attention, Desser's Eros Plus Massacre does a fine job in introducing and critiquing a number of films that might have sunk into obscurity in the West. With the recent trend of worldwide politics drifting to a far more conservative nature, the Japanese New Wave films—along with their French, British, and American counterparts—should come under increased study to show how cinema can be used to cast light on the problems of the world and modern society itself.

Michael Ward, 2008