Tokyo senso sengo hiwa (The Man Who Left His Will on Film) (1970)
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Director Nagisa Oshima has a catalog full of thorny, inaccessible works, but "The Man Who Left His Will on Film" (also known as "He Died After the War" and "A Secret Post-Tokyo War Story") may be his trickiest of all. Full of contradictions which go unresolved because they can't be resolved, it operates in a dream-logic realm which David Lynch fans might appreciate. Except this dry, black-and-white world has none of Lynch's lush, cinematic sweetening. The action opens with shaky, handheld footage of a street scene, shot by a young man within the story. Soon, he mysteriously jumps off a building to his death. A friend has been chasing him to snatch back the borrowed camera, and witnesses the suicide. This second character, Motoki, penetrates the crowd gathered around the body, grabs the precious camera and flees on foot. The police pursue him, catch him and confiscate the item as evidence. This incident seems straightforward enough but, a scene later, Motoki wakes up amidst his circle of radical film activists. Including the fallen friend Endo, who is now said to have merely sprained his ankle. These reality shifts continue throughout the movie, as Endo is alternately described as dead, faintly injured or simply non-existent. Even individual characters change their minds about his fate. Meanwhile, Motoki bonds with Endo's girlfriend Yasuko. They share an interest in the lost film reel, which has been returned. Alas, their common ground also includes greasy, acne-riddled complexions which are mercilessly shot in close-up. Given this factor along with their tepid acting, perhaps it's not surprising that neither of them ever appeared in another film. The two view the recovered footage, and are puzzled that it's so mundane. Little more than static views of random city sights. The two presume there must be a hidden agenda and dig deeper, scientifically toiling to track down the exact locations and recreate the shoots. Because this is an Oshima film, they naturally share some lurid sex too. These scenes include the movie's most memorable image: the nude Yasuko caressing herself as Endo's film is projected on her torso. Motoki and Yasuko do their best to put together the clues, but find few answers about Endo's motives. What they do find may ruin either or both of them. Central themes of "The Man Who Left His Will on Film" touch on some typical New Wave issues: the uneasy interface between film and reality, and the erratic rebellion of naive intellectuals who are so focused on theory that they fail to achieve anything practical. Here, the militant film group talks big about pursuing "the struggle," but also realizes that documenting demonstrations is not the same as contributing to them. All the members really manage to do is pass out some handbills. Perhaps Oshima felt he went as far as he could go with this film -- his directing style was never so radical again. As such, "The Man Who Left His Will on Film" not only arrived at the end of the '60s, but served to cap off a personal era for its director.
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