Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Remembrance: Japanese Filmmaker Shohei Imamura
Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura referred to his films as "messy," but that's not the word I would use to describe his extraordinary movies, from recent dramas like “The Eel” (shown above) to earlier work like his acclaimed 1966 film “The Pornographers.”
News agencies today reported the death of Imamura from liver cancer. He was 79 and the tragedy is how death of word-of-mouth support for foreign-language cinema, or any independent film for that matter, prevented Imamura from gaining widespread acclaim in the U.S.
Imamura created the best segment in the controversial omnibus film “11'09"01,” telling the fairy-tale-like story of a Japanese World War II soldier who returns to his village devastated by his battle experiences. As a result, he begins to act like a snake, much to the horror of his family.
In his last feature film, the 2001 fantasy “Warm Water Under a Red Bridge,” a laid-off businessman Yosuke (Koji Yakusho) goes in search of a golden Buddhist statue, allegedly hidden in a house by a red bridge. Upon arriving, Yosuke meets and becomes obsessed with Saeko (Misa Shimizu), a woman who secretes magical waters during sex.
In all his films, Imamura showed Japan's underbelly, its lowlifes and perverts. Maybe that’s what he meant by describing his films as “messy.” Yet, Imamura always portrayed his characters respectfully, no matter their predicaments.
Proof of Imamura’s master status lies with the fact that he is one of only four filmmakers to to win the Palme d’Or twice, for “The Eel” in 1997 and “The Ballad of Narayama” in 1983.
It’s worth mentioning that European filmmaker Emir Kusturica, another member of this gang of four, has yet to create a sizable profile in the United States.
Imamura’s death notices may not attract much U.S. news coverage but postwar Japanese cinema is as much about Imamura and his sensuous stories as any Akira Kurosawa Samurai epic.
In honor of Imamura’s recent passing, watch one of his films and you’ll agree.