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Shohei Imamura


August 16, 2007

Intentions of Murder, 1964

intentions_murder.gifAnticipating Nagisa Oshima's Ceremony in its metaphoric representation of the dying of the samurai class through contaminated bloodlines, mystical connections, incestuous relationships, frailty, and impotence, Intentions of Murder bears the characteristic imprint of Shohei Imamura's recurring preoccupations: the sensuality and resilience of women, the manifestation of individualism in a codified society, the idiosyncrasies and primitive instinctuality that define human behavior. Opening to an establishing montage of a working class suburb that overlooks commuter railroad tracks, the double entendred image of a train rushing headlong into the foreground is reinforced in the subsequent image of a gaunt salaryman, Riichi Takahashi (Kô Nishimura), his elderly mother Tadae (Ranko Akagi) and his young son, Masaru, restlessly waiting at a train station - as a seemingly random bystander inconspicuously hovers nearby - for the arrival of his earthy, common law wife, Sadako (Masumi Harukawa) who is bringing a change of clothes for his business trip, only to discover that she has misunderstood his instructions and has only brought along a change of underwear. In hindsight, the introductory milieu proves to be a terse encapsulation of the strange dynamics at work in the Takahashi household - a purported "curse" (as alluded to by the servants in the Takahashis' ancestral home) that had been sown generations earlier by the family patriarch's abandonment of his mistress, Sadako's grandmother, following the birth (and appropriation) of their child who, in her profound despair, had taken her own life. Reluctant to register the lower classed Sadako, who once served as the family housemaid, as his legal wife, Riichi's parents had instead registered Masaru as their own child in an attempt to mask the boy's illegitimacy and ensure the succession of the Takahashi bloodline, leaving Sadako without a legal claim to her own son (but with all the domestic responsibilities for his upbringing). Returning home alone after Tadae takes custody of Masaru in Riichi's absence, Sadako is followed by the enigmatic bystander, a poor, washed up musician named Hiraoko (Shigeru Tsuyuguchi) whose nebulous intentions turn from robbing the simple-minded housewife to committing rape, seemingly driven by the mere sight of Sadako's bound, voluptuous form struggling to break free in the shadows. Consumed by thoughts of suicide as an honorable gesture to escape the moral stain of her violation, Sadako's morbid preoccupation soon gives way to a return to normalcy, as Masaru and Riichi return home, and Sadako begins to busy herself with repairing items that were broken during the struggle (and consequently, concealing the evidence of the committed crime). However, when Hiraoko unexpectedly returns declaring his undying love for Sadako, her desperation to maintain at all costs her unhappy marriage and menial status within the Takahashi clan propel her to concoct an ill conceived plan to permanently rid herself of her troublesome suitor.

Returning to animal imagery as a surrogate for human behavior that Imamura would incorporate in Pigs and Battleships and The Insect Woman, the recurring images of captive mice and silkworms in Intentions of Murder, nevertheless, prove to be more malleable. Ostensibly a representation of the robust Sadako's figurative social captivity as an undereducated, peasant woman in a male-dominated society (albeit one of sickly and financially insolvent men), the plight of Masaru's pet mice - the smaller one having apparently killed and consumed the larger one - may also be seen as a reflection of her overturned role in her relationships with the (Implicitly more powerful) people around her. Similarly, the re-appearance of a lone silkworm in the final sequence that recalls an earlier memory of a silkworm being crushed during an act of punishment illustrates both the realization of a stunted, childhood fixation, as well as Sadako's dramatic transformation in her return, full circle, to Riichi's ancestral home. In essence, even as Riichi and Hiraoko alternately use (violent) sexuality as a means of exerting control and domination over Sadako, it becomes an even more powerful weapon in the hands of the exploited heroine - a poetic role reversal that is incisively marked by chance events that would derail her own "intentions of murder", initially, in her fateful encounter with Hiraoko in a tunnel after their Tokyo-bound train is delayed by a snowstorm, and subsequently, in her indirect implication in a traffic accident that would bring an unexpected end to Riichi's infidelity. Framed against Sadako's continued efforts to correct the official family registry that would identify her as Masaru's biological mother, her struggle becomes a metaphor, not only to find a place within the margins of a patriarchal - and vestigially class-entrenched - society, but also for the validation of her own identity.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 16, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Shohei Imamura


June 4, 2007

A Man Vanishes, 1967

man_vanishes.gifConverging towards Kobo Abe's experimental fiction in its fragmented examination of the strange phenomenon of johatsu - the unexplained (and presumably self-initiated) disappearances of otherwise seemingly responsible and professional salarymen in metropolitan Tokyo - as a broader social symptom of the anonymization and erasure of identity inherent in urbanization and rigid cultural conformity (most notably, in the novels Man Without a Map and The Face of Another that were later adapted to film by Hiroshi Teshigahara), and infused with Shohei Imamura's familiar penchant for human imperfection, awkwardness, and irrationality that infuses his films with a certain idiosyncratic messiness, A Man Vanishes is an ingeniously constructed and subversively intellectual, yet captivating and elegant rumination on the malleability, inexactness, and ephemeral nature of reality. Opening to the seemingly conventional aesthetic of a documentary film in its clinical images of institutional spaces and dry, impassive presentation of compiled data - in this case, a visit to police headquarters as an official provides the physical description and vital statistics of a missing plastics salesman named Tadashi Oshima who disappeared two years earlier during a routinely scheduled, payment collection business trip - the film explodes the creative myth of cinéma vérité as a direct, unadulterated means of capturing Truth in its essential (and integral) ambiguity and representational hybridity.

Ostensibly framed as an investigative film that seeks to put a human face to a curious phenomenon and solve the mystery of an everyman's disappearance, the film unfolds as a procedural, documenting the field research and interviews conducted by recurring Imamura actor turned investigative reporter, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi as he follows a trail of potential, often contradictory, and invariably dead-end information related to Oshima's case, accompanied by Oshima's enigmatic fiancée, Yoshie Hayakawa who, in turn, continues to be haunted by her lover's disappearance and shadows Shigeru in his search for truth (initially, in an attempt to bring about her own personal closure, then subsequently, in her own increasing attraction towards the genial actor). In an early episode, Oshima's supervisor suggests a possible motive for the disappearance by disclosing a suppressed company scandal involving Oshima's embezzlement of payment checks that is subsequently tempered by his financial restitution, as well as an accountant's realization that the still missing checks that had been collected on the day of his disappearance have remained undeposited. In another potential lead, the pair uncovers a salacious rumor over Oshima's failed love affair with a waitress named Kimiko that may have resulted in a pregnancy, a rumor that is subsequently refuted by Kimiko herself. Still another clue surfaces when a witness suggests that Oshima had discovered that Yoshie's sister, Sayo was leading a disreputable life as a former (and not too successful) geisha and kept mistress of a married man, creating an embarrassing situation that, as the son of a samurai family, had complicated his marriage plans - a theory that is seemingly reinforced by a shaman's divination of the sister's involvement in his disappearance (an assertion that, not surprisingly, contradicts her earlier reading that Oshima's troubles stem from an unresolved situation from within his own ancestral family).

Imamura presciently anticipates the blurring of bounds between truth and fiction of Abbas Kiarostami's cinema (most notably, in Close-up and Through the Olive Trees) and the recursive irresolvability of Nagisa Oshima's The Man Who Left His Will on Film through the film's amorphous, ever-shifting logical (and increasingly visible) construction - at times, part docufiction in the director's (played by Imamura himself) casting of professional actor, Shigeru as the interviewer for the documentary, and at other times, part metafilm in the participation of the missing man's real-life fiancée, Yoshie as both a character witness providing insight into Oshima's personal life in the days before his disappearance, and as an actress facilitating the staging and reenacting of events surrounding the film crew's search for answers in the aftermath of his disappearance. Moreover, in illustrating the role of the filmmaker in selecting the distilled, encapsulable images - what is filmed, edited, and reinforced - that innately represent the author's personal ideas of what is Truth, Imamura reinforces the theme of all filmed reality as intrinsically subjective and, therefore, consequently staged: transformed into spectacle by the subject's change in behavior resulting from an awareness of being filmed (a correlation that also surfaces in Harun Farocki's essay film on the Lumière brothers' Workers Leaving the Factory). It is this interpenetration between reality and the subjectivity of perception, individual will and performance of role, that defines the bold and irreverent spirit of Imamura's inventive and thoughtful exposition on the essential paradox of cinema: a medium that integrally conveys both the representation of real life and its projected imitation.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 04, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Shohei Imamura