Koshikei (Death by Hanging) - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Koshikei (Death by Hanging) Reviews

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½ April 26, 2015
Oshima's searing attack on the death penalty begins in stark documentary style, showing us the prison facilities involved in "death by hanging" and the steps taken in an individual execution. This feels almost like a horror movie, especially when the hanging is unsuccessful and the prisoner lives. Then, gradually Oshima reveals that his movie is really a dark farce, as the prison officials and chaplain begin to argue about how to proceed. Should they hang the prisoner a second time or is that prohibited? They decide that this is only possible if his mental faculties return and he can again appreciate his own guilt. To make sure this happens, they act out his crimes (rape and murder of two teenage girls). The film is now even more horrifying. Gradually, Oshima begins to offer Brechtian/Godardian didactic statements in inter-titles and from a number of different characters. The focus might have been on the death penalty but soon we are further afield, with a particular emphasis on the prejudice directed toward Korean-Japanese (the prisoner is one) by the Japanese majority. Further still, we are treated to imaginary fantasies (of collective guilt) and characters who appear and disappear from view in the execution chamber. And then, unfortunately, the viewer gets quite lost. However, for much of its length this is a potent and powerful and very dark critique of an unjust and barbaric punishment that still exists even to this day (and should not).
December 13, 2014
An intense and brilliant focus about death and ordinary lives
ElCochran90
Super Reviewer
½ February 5, 2014
Very loosely based on a true story about a Japanese-born Korean student who raped and killed two girls in 1958 and was given death sencence by hanging five years later, KŰshikei is ‘shima's personal transformation of an ordinary execution story into an expertly directed satirical dark comedy with important undertones of criticism against capital punishment, the Japanese nationalist anti-Korean sentiment and the blood-soaked Japanese imperialism, all through a scope that intents on the ridicule of the nationalist (Minister of Education), political (Public Prosecutors), religious (Priest) and legal (District Attorney) authorities. With a stunning ability to intertwine both the comically absurd and dramatic glimpses of powerful ideas about the contradictions found in the definitions of "human justice", ‘shima challenges prejudices and societal xenophobia, and invites to reflection for his time and for the times of today.

95/100
½ June 1, 2013
I didn't get it, I guess I will watch it again some other time.
November 18, 2012
Great treatment of Capital punishment and the notion of memory. Expertly crafted by Oshima. A tad laborious at points - I think a few scenes could have been cut.
July 10, 2012
My favorite of Oshima's films. It's a true enigma.
June 6, 2012
An interesting film exploring the death penalty and issues of nationalism. I really loved the begging and ending of the film but I felt the middle really dragged and hurt the film. Its a very bizzare film at times and even when dealing with issues of rape and murder it is comical. Not one of my favorite Oshima films but still definetly worth a watch.
½ December 9, 2010
Interesting and funny but slow
Super Reviewer
February 1, 2010
This is a fascinating, expertly directed film. And apparently, the story's initial premise (a young Korean man condemned for murdering two Japanese school girls) is even true.

The film proclaims its purpose immediately, by directly interrogating the viewer about his feelings on capital punishment. Presented through stark text cards, the central nag is (paraphrasing) "For those of you in favor of capital punishment, have you ever seen an execution?" Director Nagisa Oshima (best known in the States for "In the Realm of the Senses" and "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence") goes on to introduce the floorplan of what appears to be a real execution chamber, a quaint bungalow tucked away in the corner of a large prison.

From there, we are introduced to the central character "R." (shades of Kafka?), who is about to be hanged in a highly ritualized procedure. We are told that hanging victims are pronounced dead once their heart stops, and this can take up to 15 minutes after the hanging. But in this case, R.'s heart mysteriously persists and he slowly slips back to functional consciousness. Except...he has amnesia, and remembers almost nothing about the world around him.

The execution crew is faced with an unprecedented intellectual dilemma. The Catholic priest insists the last rites freed R.'s soul from his body, and thus the remaining person is not the same man (and should not be punished for the earlier crime). Also, the police have a rule about the condemned recognizing their guilt before death, and now R. has no idea he has committed a crime. Oops.

The hapless police come up with the solution of jarring R.'s memory by awkwardly reenacting incidents from his life. And this is where the tale starts to resemble the delightful, dark satire of Luis Bunuel. There is a surprising number of genuine laughs, and the comic acting may even turn a little too burlesque at times. However, the problem becomes more complex as the hours pass, reality blurs and all characters involved begin to question their beliefs and past transgressions. The issue of racist treatment of Koreans in Japan also becomes an important element.

"Death by Hanging" is a bit overlong at 117 minutes, and the laborious process of the various stagings slightly wears out its welcome. Still, this is a provocative film which can breed debate both about capital punishment and about simply *what happened* as the story turns more surreal.
October 20, 2009
Got to be the best death penalty film I've ever seen.
September 6, 2009
One of the best critical film works against death penalty I have ever seen... Including a very corrosive view of the Japanese society of the 60's, which is shown as a racist and non equal opportunities society. A both realistic and symbolic story, a must among Oshima's movies.
March 9, 2009
This is absolutely incredible, Brechtian interventionist theatre techniques intruding on an intense chamber play-cum-documentary about the ethics of execution, racism and identity. Oshima really gets this one right, the tone is mordant, dark and occasionally hilarious, and you really come out of this one with your senses confronted.
February 28, 2009
extremely interesting premise but it didn't all come together for me. the presentation was slow and at times it seemed scattered. It covered a lot of ground and went on for a long time. directors always seem to think their movies should be a lot longer than they need to be. :-) probably warrants another viewing if I can find a copy.
January 15, 2009
A great meditation on the morality of nationalism, murder, war, the death penalty, individualism and probably some isms I'm leaving out. Highly recommended.
½ December 9, 2008
Lses of a film and more of a "lets get together with the audience and re enact a murder". Oddly (disturbingly) the re enactments of murder and rape are played out comedically and lightly yet Oshima asks us to rethink Capital punishment. I enjoyed it.
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