This essay investigates the role the city plays in this political discourse in Oshima’s The Man Who Left His Will on Film, where the tension is deliberately set against its urban backdrop, which seems to offer the circumstance that allows these student protesters to meet, develop their ideas and form their resistance.

However, the urban setting also impacts the individual and by looking at the notable film within the film, which is tied to the protests, we understand cinema’s position as a modernist medium that is capable of mirroring what modernity theorist, George Simmel, characterized as the shocks of the modern city.

Yet in documenting this personal experience through the film, the main character is criticized by his peers. This intrapersonal urban tension is something we will explore through Richard Sennett’s thesis that the masks of public life in the 18th century, which made these political discussions less likely to cause strife, unfortunately gave way to a conflation of public and private in the 19th century.

This theory can be used to elucidate an otherwise complex narrative that is increasingly concerned with negotiating the private existence within a public sphere — here, a student group supporting the Japanese Communist Party.

By engaging in filmmaking, the personal urban experience is given expression, conflating the private and the public, but is rejected by the community it hopes to document, conveying the ultimate impossibility of artistically existing in the public sphere and, specifically, the political community.

Essay written and edited by Christopher Heron.

This video essay was first published in February of 2013.

Works Cited

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Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations. New York: Shocken Books, 2007. 217-251.

Branigan, Edward. “The Modern Text: Subjectivity Under Siege from Fellini’s 8 1/2 to Oshima’s The Story of a Man Who Left His Will on Film.” Point of View in the Cinema. Berlin: Mouton, 1984. 143-167.

Damisch, Hubert. “Street Window.” Skyline: The Narcissistic City. Stanford: Stanford U P, 2001. 3-19.

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Sennett, Richard. The Fall of Public Man. New York: Norton, 1992.

Shields, Rob. “Fancy Footwork: Walter Benjamin’s Notes on Flânerie.” The Flâneur. Keith Tester, ed. London, Routledge, 1994.

Singer, Ben. “Making Sense of the Modernity Thesis.” Melodramas and Modernity. New York: Columbia U P, 2001. 101-130.

Turim, Maureen. The Films of Oshima Nagisa. Berkeley: U California P, 1998.