Shohei Imamura

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The Insect Woman Review

In name alone, director Sh?hei Imamura's The Insect Woman sounds like the story of a nuclear-mutated lady who wreaks havoc on Japan -- leveling cities and destroying lives. While the film's protagonist Tomé doesn't sprout an exoskeleton and wings, her hardened exterior is no less an emotional mutation caused by the sociological fallout of post-World War II Japan. Born on a cold winter's evening in 1918, Tomé is fated to spend her life supporting her abusive family and laying down to satisfy her father's desires. Although the trouble likely started when her father began sleeping with her at age six, Tomé's sense of family duty trumps her job working for the "fatherland" in 1942, when she is forced by her mother to work and live with their landlord's son in order to work off a family debt. From there on out, Tomé shoulders her family's burdens like a struggling worker ant carrying a morsel that's one size too big. The only sense of control she ever has is in prostitution -- whether it be to the father whom she lets nibble on her nipples, the husband whom she insists on calling "Papa," or professionally.

By the time Tomé is draining a cat's blood to use to fake her virginity for a paying client, Japan is well into its postwar process. With the war skipped over, we only see how the U.S. occupation has infected traditional Japanese culture -- new land ownership regulations and the influence of new religions, to name a few. In a time when Japan was struggling with its own identity, so is Tomé. Though enamored with religion, she finds strength in prostitution -- in being able to manipulate the men who treat her as a simple object. As empowering as it is destructive, Tomé's resolve is no more poignant than when it's contrasted to her daughter Nobuko's seemingly content farm life in the final scenes. Imamura pits the melodramatic scene between Nobuko and her husband resolving a conflict (sealed with a kiss no less) -- Nobuko, the modern, postwar woman in complete control of the situation -- against Tomé struggling on a mountainside, a heavy bag weighing her down, as she carries out an errand for her ex-husband.

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The Ballad Of Narayama Review

As you make your way through previous winners of the Cannes Film Festival's Palme D'Or, be sure to stop at 1983 to watch The Ballad of Narayama, a remarkable comedy/drama that lives up to that overused adjective: haunting. Director Shohie Imamura, who left behind a remarkable body of work before his death in 2006, is well-served by a 2008 remastered DVD that captures the film's beauty effectively. He would be pleased.

Set "100 years ago" in a primitive and remote northern Japanese village, Narayama takes an intimate look at village life in a place where constant near-famine forces the townspeople to banish their elderly citizens to a mountaintop death at the age of 70. Next up for this passage -- which, by the way, almost no one seems to protest -- is Odin (Sumiko Sakamoto), the spry matriarch who is in such good health that she actually pulls out some of her own teeth to convince her family that yes, her time has indeed come. But before she goes, she has business to attend to.

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The Pornographers Review

Despite the fact that this film is titled The Pornographers, it is most definitely not for the trenchcoat crowd. The film, directed by Japanese master Shohei Imamura, only vaguely alludes to pornography. Instead it is a film about the personal travails of a low-life entrepreneur in Japan who happens to make a living by shooting pornographic films, which we never see.

Subu Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa) is an unscrupulous man who lives with a woman (Sumiko Sakamoto) named Haru and her two children. He earns money and provides for them in the most seemly manner; mostly through making cheap 8mm pornographic films and pimping various "virginal" women to rich Japanese businessmen.

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The Eel Review

Takuro Yamashita is a bland, efficient little man who worked nine to five in your standard office job, going off on fishing excursions during the weekend. He hardly emotes at all, and when he discovered his wife sleeping with another man one night he dispatched her in a chilly, businesslike manner then immediately turned himself in. He spent eight years in prison.

Shohei (Black Rain -- not the Michael Douglas version) Imamura's new film, The Eel, documents this quiet, eccentric character during his first several months of parole. What starts out as the story of a murderer shifts gears to become a quirky character study with more than a little touch of farce as he attempts to start his life over as a village barber in a small seaside town. He doesn't seem to like people very much, spending most of his time confessing to his eel, which "listened to him" as his pet during those hard years in prison.

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Warm Water Under A Red Bridge Review

Girl: To you, I must appear like a slut.

Boy: (bemused) You certainly do!

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