A False Student

Yasuzo Masumura, adapting an antiestablishment parable by Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, broadens the tale of an everyman caught in a web of falsehood and political gamesmanship into a bleak, sarcastic critique of Japan's conformism and elitism in the late 50s. Otsu (Jerry Fujio) is a young man from the provinces masquerading as a freshman at a top Tokyo university; after being drawn into the Maoist student movement he's labeled an informer by both police and student leaders, and like the Peter Lorre character in M he finds himself hunted from both sides of the law. While Masumura avoids taking sides, he clearly empathizes with Otsu, whose pitiable need to belong has led him into this ironic predicament. The protesters, on the other hand, seem to have inherited their hypocrisy and self-righteousness from their socialist professors, who are very much part of the ruling elite. Japan was awash in procommunist student protests when the film was released in 1960, and Masumura's forceful, articulate skepticism hardly endeared him to the left. His comparison of Japan to a loony bin is a bit overwrought, and some of his ideological points are heavily italicized, yet he infuses this harsh, macabre satire with a genuine feeling for human frailty.

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