A Non-Consensual Canon: The Shohei Imamura Collection – Blu-ray review
Given that he’s one of only a handful of filmmakers to win the Palme D’Or twice at the Cannes Film Festival, it’s perhaps surprising that Japanese director Shohei Imamura isn’t as well known as he might be. Surprising, that is, until you see his films; here’s an artist who deliberately flies in the face of a consensus and who specifically fought against the canonic traditions of established Japanese filmmakers like Ozu or Mizoguchi.
Instead, that makes him one of the cult directors par excellence. This 8-film set from Masters of Cinema collates most of the essential Imamura films, from his 1958 debut Stolen Desire to his first Cannes winner, 1983’s The Ballad Of Narayama. [The second winner, 1997’s The Eel, is the most obvious absence.]
A contemporary of the French New Wave directors, Imamura’s early films are sprightly, satirical and exuberantly stylish. The likes of Stolen Desire, Nishi-Ginza Station (1958) and Pigs And Battleships (1961) have an unruly energy fuelled by antic choreography and pell-mell camerawork, and are very funny studies of post-war Japan.
Yet underneath lies a searching inquisition into the darker sides of human behaviour and of Japanese society in general. By the time of 1979’s serial killer thriller Vengeance Is Mine and the bleak fable of The Ballad Of Narayama, Imamura had matured into a brusque philosopher of transgressive behaviour.
In between lie the experimental docu-dramas The Insect Woman (1963) and A Man Vanishes (1967), as well as Imamura’s masterpiece, Profound Desires Of The Gods, a 1968 epic about incestuous traditions at war with modern progress that is one of the weirdest and most unique visions ever committed to celluloid.
All of these films have been available previously but, by bundling them together, Masters Of Cinema have proved that Imamura is one of the unsung greats. He’d probably have hated the thought, but he deserves a place in the canon.