I promised back in my posting about the BFI’s Oshima season that I had some more news about an upcoming season focused on another New Wave director. Well, this is is – a retrospective and symposium on Shohei Imamura that will be hitting the Arnolfini in Bristol at the end of October. The details aren’t up online yet, though a look at the Arnolfini website will give you an idea of just what a cool venue it is – wish I could make it down for the Aelita: Queen of Mars screening… Bristol sure is an exciting place to be a film fan, I sometimes don’t think they know how lucky they are.
This season was organised with Patrick Crogan of UWE university with some assistance from myself and the Arnolfini’s Al Cameron. I’m enclosing the schedule below from the Arnolfini’s own press release, but I should add the proviso that this info may be subject to change – we’re still working on the guests for the symposium, though you can bet I’ll be there.
Here are the details.
The only Japanese director to twice win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Imamura was a crucial, yet ambiguous, figure in the Japanese new wave. He learned his trade under Yasujiro Ozu, but quickly rejected his sensei’s restraint and quiet eloquence, bringing to his national cinema an anthropological eye and a previously unseen taste for the irreverent. Imamura specialized in earthy, idiosyncratic films featuring persevering, willful heroines. His films were rooted to the verities of Japanese life in extremis, their characters rarely more than an insect’s crawl away from jungle law and pig-sty madness. His remains a unique cinematic voice.
THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA (18)
THU 15 OCT, 7.30pm
Dir. Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1983, 2h 10m, Subtitled
The Ballad of Narayama
In an isolated mountain region, austere village laws to ensure survival dictate that, despite her good health, matriarch Orin must shortly ascend the sacred summit of Narayama where her soul must be laid to rest like all who turn 70. But before she goes, she has much family business to attend to. One of the greatest Japanese films: a haunting, poignant meditation on human nature, existence and death that won Imamura his first Palme d’Or.
INTENTIONS OF MURDER (CTBA)
FRI 16 OCT, 7.30pm
Dir. Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1964, 2h 25m, Subtitled
Intentions of Murder
Bold, expansive and intriguing, this tale of a low-caste household drudge who runs off with the burglar who breaks into her house and assaults her, marks the most complete consolidation of the themes that inform Imamura’s initial cycle of features in the late 50s and early 60s. Beautifully photographed and technically perfect, a faultlessly constructed model of sophistication.
PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS (CTBA)
SAT 17 OCT, 6.45pm
Dir. Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1961, 1h 17m, Subtitled
Pigs and Battleships
A cruelly comic movie, set in Yokosuka, a coastal city dominated by vice and a U.S. military base, where gangs kill each other over the right to control the black market in US Army food scraps — here, Imamura emerges as Japan’s incarnation of Buñuel, omnisciently satiric and utterly cynical. Irreverent and unabashedly human: a defining self-portrait of Japan in the post-war moment.
BLACK RAIN (PG)
SAT 17 OCT, 8.30pm
Dir. Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1989, 2h 3m, Subtitled
A deeply affecting study of the uncalculated tragedy of nuclear holocaust, as a couple try to marry off their niece after Hiroshima. In contrast to Imamura’s usual subversively bawdy cinema, this is a spare and tonally muted masterpiece of dignity and human resilience, its carefully composed monochrome reminding us that Imamura began his career as an assistant to Ozu.
PROFOUND DESIRE OF THE GODS
SUN 18 OCT, 2.30pm
Dir. Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1968, 2h 52m, Subtitled
Profound Desire of the Gods
A crystallization of Imamura’s ideas, transported to an island so secluded its inhabitants have evolved into animalistic, incestuous nutcases. Into this hothouse, full of superstition and hungry wildlife, comes a mainland civil engineer, looking for a fresh water source so a factory can be built. A hair-raising, richly imagined epic, filthy with unforgettable images and, by its end, beautifully mysterious.
THE INSECT WOMAN (CTBA)
SUN 18 OCT, 6.30pm
Dir. Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1963, 2h 3m, Subtitled
A beetle labouring up a tiny mound opens the film, symbol of a woman named Tomé’s slow rise through poverty, servitude, and exploitation to become one of Tokyo’s top brothel-keepers, in a time of profound national change under the repressive influence of a patriarchal society. This objective yet sympathetic portrait of Imamura’s archetype – the sensual, primal, and strong-willed heroine – celebrates the resilient soul of a marginalized national identity.
PIGS, EELS & INSECTS: SYMPOSIUM
SAT 17 OCT, 10am – 5pm, £5/£3
Pigs and Battleships
A one day event bringing together experts including Professor Tadao Sato of the Japan Academy of Moving Images, to explore and celebrate the career of Shohei Imamura. The panel will examine his incisive insights into the lives, loves and experiences of everyday people in post-war Japan. His characters move in a fascinating zone between documentary and fiction, navigating between private desires and public duty, tradition and modernity, and local and westernizing forces. Mark Bould, Reader in Film Studies at UWE, and Jasper Sharp, editor of Midnight Eye, are among the symposium presenters.
SUN 8 NOV, 2.30pm
THE EEL (18)
Dir. Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1997, 1h 57m, Subtitled
This quirky, surreal and affecting film, following the attempts of a convicted murderer to reintegrate himself into normal life – with the help of his eel friend – after a prison sentence for murdering his philandering wife, won Imamura his second Palme d’Or. A flash of quiet brilliance that resonates long after the images have faded from the screen.
VENGEANCE IS MINE (18)
Dir. Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1979, 2h 20m, Subtitled
Based on the true story of a cold-blooded sociopath, this morally-ambivalent story unfolds using the killer’s confessions and reconstructed testimonies to retrace his past in an attempt to discover what made this monster. Exploring the problems inherent with reconstructing real-life events within a fictional format, Imamura once again proves himself ahead of the game.
SEASON PASS: ALL FILMS & SYMPOSIUM: £20/£15
With generous support from The Japan Foundation, The Daiwa Foundation and UWE Film Studies Research Group. Film prints supplied by the Japan Foundation.