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Nagisa Oshima

Film writer and director;

Born: March 31, 1932; Died: January 15, 2013.

Nagisa Oshima, who has died aged 80, pushed the cinematic boundaries on sex and was one of the few Japanese directors who was widely known in the West. He directed David Bowie in the haunting 1983 prisoner of war drama Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, but was already well known in the UK because of censorship issues surrounding his 1976 film In the Realm of the Senses (Ai No Corrida).

Censorship restrictions were relaxed dramatically in the early 1970s and films such as A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs had been passed. But the censor still drew the line at a story which ends with a young woman cutting off her lover's genitals.

It was eventually approved in 1991 – the British Board of Film Classification notes, without irony, that it was passed "uncut". The site says it "contains strong real sex, bloody mutilation and sexual fetish theme".

Oshima was born in Kyoto, studied law at Kyoto University and began making films in his mid-20s. He was influenced by the French New Wave, but worked within a distinctly Japanese context.

From the outset his films combined political and sexual issues and Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1968) seemed to equate sexual and political liberation.

In the Realm of the Senses made a major international impact and was followed by Empire of Passion (1978), in which a woman and her lover murder the woman's husband, only to have him return as a ghost. It won Oshima the best director award at Cannes.

As a Second World War drama, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence might seem a change of tack. It was based on Lauren van der Post's The Seed and the Sower, one of Prince Charles's favourite novels, and starred David Bowie and the Scottish actor Tom Conti as Allied POWs and Ryuichi Sakamoto as the young Japanese commandant.

But there was a subdued eroticism in the relationship between Bowie and Sakamoto's characters. There was also something Christ-like in the Bowie character and his ultimate sacrifice for others. Sakamoto also co-wrote the theme song Forbidden Colours, which was a top 20 hit in the UK.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence remains a powerful and deeply moving statement on the human condition. Not only is it more readily accessible to Western audiences than some of Oshima's other films, it is arguably one of the best films ever made.

Oshima worked with another European star, Charlotte Rampling, when he returned to the subject of transgressive sex with Max Mon Amour (1986), a playful comedy in which her lover is a chimpanzee.

His final feature film was Taboo (Gohatto), which screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2000. The taboo in question was homosexuality among samurai warriors. It was stylish, beautiful and again truly haunting.

He is survived by his wife, the actress Akiko Koyama, to whom he was married for more than 50 years, and two sons.

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