Hey, guess what’s under my hat?
“Pimps, Prostitutes, and Pigs” is about as accurate a title as one’s likely to find heading up a retrospective of the works of the recently deceased Japanese master Shohei Imamura. A filmmaker who trained under Ozu, but whose maxim “I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure” is actively woven throughout a body of work which relates to Ozu’s only in opposition, Imamura’s films are indeed populated by pimps, prostitutes and pigs, and that’s just a very small part of what’s on offer. Step into an Imamura movie and you’re likely to run across anything from an uncomfortably detailed examination of the zany home life of a two-bit pornographer, to a wife murderer establishing an unusual relationship with an eel, to a mushroom cloud morphing into the shape of a giant, molten liver, to a woman whose prodigious ejaculate brings life to flora and fauna alike. Or, on a more harrowing note—a truly devastating depiction of the physical and societal fallout from the atomic destruction of Hiroshima.
Given the company he keeps, it probably says more about me than I’d like to admit that Imamura is easily my favorite filmmaker from Japan. While having spent more time with Ozu, Kurosawa, and Naruse thanks to recent retrospectives, I’ve only been able to catch up a handful of Imamura’s movies, but each one, with their madcap blends of genre and wild tonal shifts has left an indelible impact—seeing The Eel and Dr Akagi when I did had an unquantifiable impact on how I watch movies. Less overtly intellectual than contemporary Nagisa Oshima, but no less intelligent, Imamura’s films exist in a truly unclassifiable space defined by post-war Japan, but are far from bound by it. The relative unavailability of his works here has long been a source of frustration, so thanks to the folks at BAM for putting together a comprehensive program which runs from tonight until the end of March. Our picks of the series would have to be “all of them,” but Imamura’s rare documentary A Man Vanishes has us especially excited. In the face-off between the filmmaker he once shared the Palme d’Or with up at MOMA, I’ll give a personal edge to Imamura, unless someone can point me to an instance in Kiarostami’s films where a charming young prostitute performs a bit of unspeakableness with a hardboiled egg and a piece of anatomy that Imamaura seems to take special interest in. A filmmaker who’s sorely missed (even if he did give Miike his start), here’s a golden opportunity to find out what we’ve all been missing.