Japanese “New Wave” filmmaker Nagisa Oshima, known for his breathtaking works of ’60s social criticism, passed away at the age of 80 last week. But one of his peers, 84-year-old Susumu Hani, has been resurrected from obscurity by the Harvard Film Archive as it continues presenting this pioneer’s neglected works. Alongside another late contemporary, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Hani was one of the strongest voices of Japan’s early independents working in the postwar cinema of the ’50s and ’60s, before he moved on to making nature documentaries for television.
Hani and his wife, actress and producer Kimiko Nukamura, on a rare visit to the US, are guests of the HFA and will attend 7pm screenings each night from January 26 to 28, with Q&A sessions following each film.
Hani won’t be attending the screening of his 1963 film She and He (Friday at 7pm), but it’s not to be missed. Hani’s background in documentaries (a program of his non-narrative shorts can be seen January 27 at 4 pm) informs this and his other fictional works, fusing non-scripted, handheld camera methods with a penchant for casting non-professionals. Although in this film he uses known actors — Eiji Okada of Alain Resnais’s landmark Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) and Hani’s late ex-wife Sachiko Hidari — he directs them no differently than if they were amateurs, drawing naturalistic performances. Here, as he did in A Full Life (1962), which screened last week, Hani explores the daily routines of a housewife who’s striving to find herself. Both films end on close-ups of their leads, now aware of the subservience and repression of their social roles.
Children Clasping Hands (1964; screens January 28 at 7 pm, preceded by the 1950 short documentary “A Town Without Flies”), a remake of Hiroshi Inagaki’s 1948 film, also explores the desire to find oneself, but this time it deals with schoolchildren, and it serves as a strong companion piece to last weekend’s 1961 Bad Boys , Hani’s first narrative feature.
But Nanami: The Inferno of First Love (1968; screens January 26 at 7 pm) may just be Hani’s masterpiece. An unflinching, psychosexual examination of a cycle of abuse, it stands with Oshima’s best as a landmark of the New Wave. Neglect it — and Hani — no longer.
AS IF OUR EYES WERE IN OUR HANDS — THE FILMS OF SUSUMU HANI:: Through January 28 at the Harvard Film Archive
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