Nagisa Oshima, the iconoclastic Japanese director of In the Realm of the Senses and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, died of pneumonia in a Kanagawa hospital early on Tuesday (Jan 15). He was 80 years old.

Born in 1932 in Kyoto, Oshima started his film career in 1954 at Shochiku studios in Ofuna. After working as an assistant director he made his feature directorial debut with potent family drama A Town Of Love And Hope in 1959. 

The following year, the politically and socially-aware Oshima wrote and directed three films – Cruel Story Of Youth, The Sun’s Burial and Night And Fog In Japan.

Oshima’s thematically and aesthetically bold depictions of adolescent crime, poverty and student radicalism quickly established him as a leading-figure in Japan’s studio-born new wave. Coinciding with France’s nouvelle vague, Cruel Story Of Youth received a US and German release.

After quitting Shochiku when the release of Night And Fog In Japan was pulled from theaters due to a politically-motivated assassination, Oshima established Sozo-sha, with his actress wife Akiko Koyama and former assistant director Tsutomu Tamura becoming key performing and screenwriting collaborators. After a period of TV documentary work, notable features included Violence At Noon and Band Of Ninja.

Later productions gained attention from international film festivals. Death By Hanging was invited to but unable to screen at Cannes’ interrupted 1968 edition, 1969’s Boy was shown in Venice, and Oshima was again invited to Cannes in both 1970 and 1971 with The Man Who Left His Will On Film and The Ceremony respectively.

Oshima would cement his international reputation in 1976 with the sexually explicit retelling of the sensational Sada Abe murder case, In The Realm Of The Senses. Billed as a French production to circumvent strict Japanese censorship laws, the film was produced by Anatole Dauman and the late Koji Wakamatsu.

The film’s world premiere in the Directors’ Fortnight caused a sensation, screening 12 times. It later won a BFI Sutherland Trophy. Companion piece Empire Of Passion competed for the Palme d’Or in 1978, winning best director accolades.

Oshima’s presence on the Croisette continued with 1983 UK-Japan co-production Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, produced by Jeremy Thomas, and 1986 French comedy Max, Mon Amour, starring Charlotte Rampling.

Oshima suffered a stroke at Heathrow airport in 1996. After a period of rehabilitation he returned to Cannes with sexually-tense samurai drama Taboo (Gohatto) in 1999.

In the past decade Oshima made occasional public appearances and remained an active author but health issues prevented the outspoken film maker from returning to the director’s chair until his death.