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753 Ratings

Death by Hanging


Directed by Nagisa Ôshima
Japan, 1968
Comedy, Crime, Drama


In this macabre farce, a Korean man is sentenced to death in Japan but survives his execution, sending the authorities into a panic about what to do next. At once disturbing and oddly amusing, Nagisa Ôshima’s constantly surprising film is a startlingly subversive and surreal political statement.

Our take

Exploring crime on both an individual and national level, Nagisa Oshima’s riotous comedy doubles as a dense, contradicting critique of hypocrisy and corruption. An absurdist farce shot in a faux-documentary style—influenced by the innovations of Jean-Luc Godard and Bertold Brecht.

Death by Hanging Directed by Nagisa Ôshima
Oshima’s Brechtian dramaturgy heightens the inherently ludicrous nature of the proceedings, as does the inexplicable resurrection of a dead woman who may or may not be R’s sister. Altogether it amounts to one of the most bitingly political and surrealistic send-ups of capital punishment and capital obstinacy ever conceived. But, importantly, the lunacy never hamstrings the critique; rather, it potently distills and reframes the absurdity of much of what we accept at face value.
April 01, 2016
Death by Hanging, simultaneously insouciant and claustrophobic, was a cinema-of-the-absurd milestone and ferocious entertainment on a par with The Exterminating Angel, Dr. Strangelove, Shock Corridor, and Weekend… Outburst for mordant outburst, scene for remorselessly obscene scene, minute by unpredictable minute, I’d rate it the most invigorating movie of what was a pretty interesting year for cinema.
February 16, 2016
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If Oshima sees the death penalty in general as wrong, his understanding of the disproportionality of it truly rages at Japanese hypocrisy… Near the end of the film, which is otherwise shot in neutral grays, R walks past a Japanese flag on the wall rendered in high contrast, framing it as a blazing, white void pockmarked by a black hole. It is an obliterative image, one that uses the symbol of a nation to consume it whole, and it summarizes the film’s rage and disgust better than any speech.
February 16, 2016
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