Imamura. Imamura is relatively new for me- a “wow” random viewing of The Pornographers and then a full-blown study in 2019. His strengths are the four films in the top 500 of all-time and the absolute alliance with film art mise-en-scene. He’s up there with von Sternberg and Ozu– remarkable.
Best film: The Pornographers, The dedication to the gorgeous mise-en-scene aesthetic is evident quickly. I see some of Hitchcock, Lynch (way before Lynch of course) and Powell’s Peeping Tom with the voyeurism and angles. Freeze frame in several key sequences. Countless shots are through windows with natural obstructions in the frame—even curtains to make a frame within a frame- spectacular mise-en-scene– truly an artistic achievement. Very busy mise-en-scene—lots of shots off glass and through fish tanks—it’s visual bravado and audacious – a clear aesthetic dedication to mise-en-scene like Von Sternberg and Ozu—there’s 30-50 gorgeous set designs and arrangements. A stunner of a shot (long shot) of a long take of a girl walking down a corridor towards the camera—then the next shot is a gorgeous row of legs—both stunners. There’s a lineage to Renoir here with the shots outside of windows using the frame within the frame. meticulous frame staging– gorgeous– an absolute triumph– 50+ times, shots through fish tanks, glass doors– formally sound too because he bounces these off longer shots as if looking on from a terrace across the way like a voyeur– like Rear Window – it’s an ambitious structure and arrangement of shots on top of the individual shot composition achievements. Impediments– pillars, columns, window brackets, shots through a cracked door (shrinking the frame) or a curtain left open by a hair. Even the final shot is so well framed- we have a candle, a robot and his face in different depths.
total archiveable films: 12
top 100 films: 1
top 500 films: 4 (The Pornographers, Intentions of Murder, Vengeance is Mine, Pigs and Battleships)
top 100 films of the decade: 3 (I did this before my study but finished the Imamura study before my top 500 which is why we have the disconnect here— The Pornographers, Vengeance is Mine, The Ballad of Narayama)
most overrated: not a thing- no films in top 500 and only 2 in top 1000 (Vengeance and The Ballad of Narayama– neither are overrated by TSPDT unless you count within the context of ranking Imamura’s oeuvre—I have them 3 and 5 and the consensus has them 1-2).
most underrated: Intentions of Murder is my choice here since I had the room to discuss The Pornographers above. Both films (Imamura’s two best) are masterpieces (Pornographers is #64 all-time so technically the most underrated and Intentions #146) and sorely missing from the TSPDT top 1000. Formal and stylistic bliss. Imamura isn’t undone by the running time which is pretty special—150 minutes—it’s almost unfathomable how he did this the year after The Insect Woman in 1963—this is long, detailed, and so carefully and beautifully crafted in nearly every frame. A strong opening- train freeze frame still photograph montage. Wow. Then he goes into a freeze frame photo montage of the interior of our protagonist’s (Masumi Harukawa) home—well-staged (even in stills) Ozu interiors with shoji doors. Another Ozu-like mise-en scene shot- mouse wheel in foreground. The lamp in the foreground during the robbery and rape—(there is where style and content break with Imamura being in the Ozu style)—this is seedy, brutal, ugly—typical Imamura. Imamura actually uses Welles’ low-angles with some foreground background work as well.. Kô Nishimura in the foreground, Harukawa in the background tied up—we have the shoji door creating a frame and giving depth—and then a hanging light swinging back and forth in an otherwise dimly lit room giving occasional light to her. An oddly illuminated train scene just after this pivotal and traumatic scene—this is all 15 minutes in. Gorgeous shot of Nishimura and Harukawa and their faces laying down after the crime. Like The Insect Woman we have a rape here—brutal—especially for a 60’s film. A dazzling overhead 360 camera movement shot of Harukawa in the aftermath of the crime. Sparsely used experimental score. Uses slow-mo once around the train (don’t love the usage of it once formally. The mouse (looks like a hamster) in a wheel metaphor used here visually—on the nose a bit—The train is a formal trigger—so many scenes and pivotal moments on and around trains. Imamura- nudity and sexuality again and again. For Imamura it’s a remarkable achievement in mise-en-scene, a formal achievement with the train— depth of feel and photographic skill. I do feel like Imamura is a bit inconsistent with the inner monologues—unlike the train, freeze frame, and mise-en-scene brilliance this isn’t set up from the get-go. Gorgeous framing at the library scenes. An unreal tracking shot as he pursues her through the cars of the train. Like Insect Woman this is depressing— a cursed woman. The tunnel at the end is a fabulous set piece, the frame is blocked by snow. A bizarre romantic saga rape/woman survival film….Thoughtful shots and gorgeous photography throughout. There are some minor flaws but enough auteur-driven stylistic bravado to make it one of the best films of 1964.
gem I want to spotlight: Pigs and Battleships. His fifth feature and it is revelatory—a very strong film and cinematic voice. Starts with a bang- a great backwards tracking shot during the opening credits of sailors stumbling around a crowded and lit-up Vegas-like Yokosuka strip. Like all of Imamura’s work it’s about the seedy underbelly of society, lower class or outcasts—there’s swearing, hitting, spitting and prostitution in the first 5 minutes- haha. I couldn’t find anything official but Imamura worked under Ozu— and most cinephiles like to note how different they are in their content—and that’s true. However, Imamura clearly is heavily influenced by Ozu stylistically—very apparent—he’s a gifted stylist. Loaded mise-en-scenes… bottles like Ozu in the foreground. Later a fan. Drapes covering top 1/4 of a frame- inventive framing work. Uses the entire screen- he’s a depth of field master, von Sternberg. The protagonist throws father out of doorway and we have a great “The Searchers” doorway shot. 10+ individual wall-art shots like the saxophone player shot. Another one of a girl dancing in front of bottles. It’s political—there’s a child reading from a textbook about how great Japan is while there are adults fighting in his living room—anti-American sentiment for sure from WW2 fallout. Raw talk about pimping and whoring in 1961 opened my eyes a little. During the rape scene Imamura brilliantly cuts to an overhead angle of the room—then he spins the frame very rapidly 360 degrees as a transition to the aftermath. Stylistic ingenuity—great depth of field in a car chase- the entire end is awesome—it’s like Ozu directing action scenes with such care and attention given to the beauty of the individual shot and the framing—we have the glittery billboard in the backdrop.
stylistic innovations/traits: Imamura, like Ozu, is a master of mise-en-scene– one of cinema’s all-time greatest. Uses the entire screen- he’s a depth of field master, von Sternberg. Visual bravado and audacious. Japanese doors as framing (Ozu) and windows as framing (Renoir). Almost every Imamura film makes the man is an animal comparison—we get Pigs, Insects, Fish (often in the film titles themselves) and here with the eels towards the end. Imamura uses his trademark cut to the overhead shot at the climactic moment. Imamura, as one of the great masters of framing and mise-en-scene. Again for Imamura- the lower depths of society, a promiscuous women, bastard children (from text- not my wc)—sexually and taboos are incredibly important to Imamura— anyone who says Imamura is the opposite of Ozu is talking about content over style. He’s stylistically similar and clearly influenced by Ozu. The narrative bounds around a bit at times recklessly throughout his body of work—often a black comedy of hardships or same as Kurosawa’s before him- dog eat dog nihilism.
- The Pornographers
- Intentions of Murder
- Vengeance Is Mine
- Pigs and Battleships
- The Ballad of Narayama
- The Insect Woman
- Profound Desires of the Gods
- Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
- Endless Desire
By year and grades
|1958- Endless Desire||R/HR|
|1961- Pigs and Battleships||MS|
|1963- The Insect Woman||HR|
|1964- Intentions of Murder||MP|
|1966- The Pornographers||MP|
|1968- Profound Desires of the Gods||HR|
|1979- Vengeance is Mine||MS|
|1981 – Eijanaika||R/HR|
|1983- The Ballad of Narayama||MS|
|1989- Black Rain||R|
|1997- The Eel|
|2001- Warm Water Under a Red Bridge||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives