471-474 Pigs, Pimps & Prostitutes: 3 Films by Shohei Imamura

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Re: Intentions of Murder (Shohei Imamura, 1964)

#76 Post by knives » Tue Mar 30, 2021 4:36 pm

Likewise to Zedz on all accounts. I’ll rewatch it soon, but probably won’t be able to reach those heights.

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Re: Intentions of Murder (Shohei Imamura, 1964)

#77 Post by zedz » Sun Apr 04, 2021 9:46 pm

This is really deep-dish Imamura: a long, complicated wallow in many of his preoccupations and one of the best examples of his trademark pitiless empathy. (Spoilers follow.)

The first thing that struck me when rewatching the film was the perennial question of the influence or lack of influence of Imamura's former boss Yasujiro Ozu. It was an influence Imamura fought against and, in popular critical opinion, only submitted to in one instance, Black Rain, and yet here we are at the outset of this film with a bespoke version of a characteristic Ozu sequence. A train passes, and after it does, we have a sequence of static shots of landscape, buildings and interior close-ups that carry us through a carefully linked series of visual associations from the railway line, to a neighbouring suburb, to the home of the protagonist. It's the classic Ozu pillow-shot transition sequence, where we don't cut from location to location, but move through oblique, unpopulated transitional spaces. Moving from A to E by passing through B, C, and D. But what's different in Imamura's version, and what sets it apart as a distinctly nuberu bagu version of Ozu, is the tone. We're not starting with an Ozu train shot, but with a grimy, noisy, violent image (and one that will recur throughout the film, generally associated with rape) heading towards us, and we don't just gently cut to a static pillow shot. Instead, the image freezes on blurred action, and the cut is to another still (not just static) image. The pillow shots that follow are all stills, giving the sequence a percussive, clinical, documentary feel rather than Ozu's haiku-esque lyricism. And the segue to narrative action isn't to Sadako or any of the secondary characters, but to doomed animals in a cage. In this opening sequence, Imamura seems to be using the Ozu reference as a pivot into a completely different, grubbier, more violent and unforgiving world.

Sadako, our protagonist, is unprepossessing, to say the least. Her occasional narration often seems obtuse or confused (and towards the end she begins to realise this, when she finds she cannot trust all of her memories) but she's a characteristic Imamura heroine because of her resilience, and during the course of the film she manages to scratch out a tiny niche of agency, a modicum of self-awareness, and a glimmer of sexual satisfaction.

All of the male characters in the film, and the second-most important female character, Miss Masuda, are characterised by their physical frailty, whereas Sadako is a robust survivor. In this respect, she is closest to her ostensible nemesis, her mother-in-law, another strong character who has manage to attain a degree of self-determination in a misogynist society. Interestingly, it's ultimately by "teaming up" with the mother-in-law that Sadako prevails at the end of the film (moving into the ancestral home, opening up a knitting school, taking over the silk farm, and letting the silkworms give her the sensual pleasure the men in her life couldn't).

Sadako's passivity throughout the film starts out as narratively irritating, but turns out to be her secret strength. Her power is to withstand abuse and prevail through stamina and attrition. When confronted by her husband by a series of candid photos, she doesn't come up with any elaborate fabrication, but just denies it's her in the images. She may have intentions of murder, but they're soft and unformed, and she seems to be almost constitutionally unable to do harm to others. In Imamura's universe this counts as goodness, and the tentative optimism at the end of this film counts as a happy ending.

Sadako's new strength also comes from an increased awareness of her social predicament, spurred on by her rape and quasi-blackmail. The film very deliberately rhymes her everyday marital rape (she says no, her husband fucks her anyway) with the intruder-rape that sets her life in a spin. Both kinds of violation are accompanied by screaming train noises, and after the intruder threatens her with an iron during the second home invasion, Sadako finds herself looking at her distorted reflection in the iron the next time she has intercourse with her husband. At this moment, we can sense that Sadako too has made the connection between the acts.

The personal upheaval during the course of the film also causes Sadako to become aware of her legal predicament (she hasn't been officially registered as the parent of her son, and doesn't technically belong to her own family), and with the help of her neighbour (the film's third strong, self-determined female character) remedies that situation. It's an interesting narrative twist on self-becoming. At the start of the film she's defined as a wife and mother, but it emerges that in legal terms she's not even that: she has no legal status, no identity. It's only when an unwelcome identity is imposed on her - victim - that she can generalise this identity to all the other dimensions of her life and ultimately transcend it, and at the end of the film she has attained a number of official identities - wife, mother, daughter-in-law, businesswoman - and dispensed with "victim" (an identity that never becomes 'official', because Sadako never acknowledges the rape to anybody else).

Sadako is a really unusual lead character because she's not a conventional hero - she does little to extract herself from her predicament, and what decisive actions she does contemplate (e.g. confession, murder) she doesn't follow through on - and nor is she a tragic figure (Miss Masuda, the ill-fated other woman, fits that bill much more closely). And she's not particularly comic in any way, either. Imamura never mythologizes her, but never undermines her either. Although we are repeatedly told (not least by Sadako herself) that she is uneducated, we don't get the crowd-pleasing revelation that this is counterbalanced by some animal cunning or raw intellect, or the sentimental indication that she could have been an intellectual contender if only she'd been given the gift of education. Instead, we get some raw background information - Sadako didn't go to school because she was only supposed to be a maid (i.e. she wasn't valued by her adoptive family) - and, in a revealing, blink-and-you'll-miss-it detail, that she's actually much better at maths than her educated husband.

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