The Catch

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During World War II, an American G.I. is forced to parachute and lands outside of a remote Japanese village. Very quickly the soldier is captured by the villagers and imprisoned. The burden of caring for a POW is further exasperated by the racism of the villagers, none of whom have encountered a Black man before. Gradually tensions build until reaching a cataclysmic conclusion.

The Catch (1961) finds director Nagisa Ōshima bristling with political outrage. The Catch isn’t about Hugh Hurd’s Black G.I. so much as it is a portrait of Japanese village life. Impoverished, insular, ignorant and remote, the village in The Catch is Ōshima’s dramatic rendering of an older generation; the generation of his parents. Nagisa Ōshima depicts each villager, with the exception of the children, as inherently selfish and fearful. At first the villagers fear the Black G.I., then the military police, then the government, and finally each other.

The Catch is unsentimental and unsympathetic about the characters that populate the narrative world. In Ōshima’s eyes poverty is no excuse for violence. Not only does the G.I. suffer the violent fate of the scapegoat, but the women of the village are perpetually abused and assaulted by men desperate for some little bit of power or so gripped by fear that they lash out uncontrollably. Even the children in the community become corrupted and act out the power-plays of the adults in miniature.

The game that the villagers play in The Catch is one designed to negate accountability and responsibility. At times their POW is a blessing, a means for scamming the government for recompense for the thefts committed by neighbors. At other times the POW is a scapegoat for a young man’s cowardice or a young woman’s sexuality. Even after they have killed the G.I. on the eve of Japan’s surrender the need to avoid accountability turns the villagers against themselves as they come to realize that they are all complicit in the G.I.’s murder.

Shot in beautiful black and white Yoshitsugu Tonegawa, The Catch looks and feels like nothing else in Ōshima’s oeuvre. The Catch utilizes long takes in wide angles that capture the violence of the villagers as a series of highly theatrical tableaus. The visceral close-ups and startling jump-cuts of Cruel Story Of Youth (1960) are exchanged for a more classical visual language akin to Kurosawa. To indict a generation Ōshima adapts his style to mirror that of its most popular filmmaker.

The Catch was Ōshima’s first independently financed feature film and in that way marks the direction his career would take throughout the rest of the sixties. The Catch re-teams Ōshima with actress Akiko Koyama with whom the director would make half a dozen pictures. The Catch also features American actor Hugh Hard, best known for his role in John Cassavetes’ debut film Shadows (1959), as the American soldier; which he plays with a quiet dignity and emotional resonance. The Catch isn’t Ōshima’s most formally or technically innovative feature, but it does sit comfortably amongst his more political works. The theme of the culture clash touched upon in The Catch would be elaborated upon in Ōshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) more than twenty years later.