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Shohei Imamura

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Shohei Imamura
Shōhei Imamura.jpg
Born(1926-09-15)15 September 1926
Died30 May 2006(2006-05-30) (aged 79)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupationdirector, screenwriter, assistant director, producer, actor
Years active1951–2002
AwardsGolden Palm
1983 The Ballad of Narayama
1997 The Eel
Japan Academy Prize Picture of the Year
1980 Vengeance Is Mine
1984 The Ballad of Narayama
1990 Black Rain
Japan Academy Prize for Director of the Year
1980 Vengeance Is Mine
1990 Black Rain
1998 The Eel

Shohei Imamura (今村 昌平, Imamura Shōhei, 15 September 1926 – 30 May 2006) was a Japanese film director. A key figure in the Japanese New Wave, who continued working into the 21st century, Imamura is the only director from Japan to win two Palme d'Or awards.

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  • ✪ `The Insect Woman` - Interview with Shohei Imamura
  • ✪ Imamura - "The Insect Woman" - Tony Rayns Interview


Good evening. I'm Tadao Sato. <i>You just saw The Insect Woman. TADAO SATO - FILM CRITIC</i> The film's director, Shohei Imamura, is here as our guest. Good evening. <i>You made Pigs and Battleships before this film,</i> and it was very well received. It consolidated your position as a director. In spite of that, it took nearly three years <i>to bring out your next film, Insect Woman.</i> It seems it was a very difficult project. SHOHEI IMAMURA Why was that? It wasn't that this film was difficult to make. <i>When I made Pigs and Battleships,</i> I went over budget by about three million yen, I think. The studio thought that was outrageous and hung me out to dry. They told me to my face that they'd punish me that way. So I had no choice. I left Tokyo and went to Mishima, where Kazuo Kitamura's parents were living. I took refuge with them, relying on their kindness. And I simply wrote scripts. During that time of exile, <i>I wrote Foundry Town for Kirio Urayama.</i> <i>The Haiyu-za Theater put on my oddly titled play called Paraji.</i> The Haiyu Small Theater Group performed it. <i>I also wrote Samurai's Child,</i> a film directed by Mitsuo Wakasugi. I wrote the script. So I was writing scripts for other people. <i>I also wrote scripts for this film and Intentions of Murder.</i> I was rather busy during those three years. I actually finished writing <i>Intentions of Murder before Insect Woman,</i> <i>so I wanted to make them in that order.</i> <i>But the studio took a liking to Insect Woman for some reason,</i> <i>and they told me make it first.</i> That's the background. I didn't know anything about the situation behind the film. Once it came out, however, its style was unlike anything seen before. In various ways, it broke from established filmmaking conventions. <i>Because it was such an ambitious project,</i> <i>I thought it took a long time to get greenlighted.</i> <i>That wasn't the case? - No.</i> <i>The novel stylistic approach isn't much described in the script,</i> so I don't think that was the issue. They just wanted to punish a guy who didn't go by their rules. Especially back then, Nikkatsu had an established line of films starring Yujiro Ishihara and other actors like him, and they were churning them out. Films that were different were - - They didn't care about those. You persevered in that sort of environment, and you made films in a completely new style, and we were very impressed. On the one hand, these lightweight, superficial films were getting mass-produced. But with this film, you removed all the superficial pleasantness. Instead, you explored the real nature of human beings, delving relentlessly in an unprecedented way. How did you get the idea for this film? In addition to the red-light and blue-light districts, there used to be a white-light district back in those days. Nonprofessional women did business in the white-light district - that is, prostitution. And they had a certain haunt in Minami-Senju. Urayama and I and friends used to go there sometimes to drink and raise hell. The head waitress of this joint was named Shima. She was a very entertaining woman. She wasn't eloquent, but she talked a lot in her unrefined language. We found her interesting, so we joked around and drank with her. Then an idea to write a script based on her came up while I was drinking with Keiji Hasebe. So we decided to find out about her in depth. We wanted to learn about her background, what kind of father she'd had. Then, if possible, we'd write a script based on her story. I contacted Shima and asked her to meet me at the Meiji Temple gardens because I had no money. I didn't have a proper office to meet her. We were to meet in front of the picture gallery. There I took out my notebook and listened to her story. She had once worked in a mill called the Kureha mill in Toyama. And she had very strong feelings about her father. She wasn't aware of it, but she obviously had these buried feelings toward him on a subconscious level. I was happy when I discovered that. So I listened to her for days and took notes that eventually filled three notebooks. Based on those notes, Hasebe and I wrote a script. In telling this woman's life story, you begin with her father. In the ordinary way of telling a story, her feelings toward her father would most likely get omitted. But your approach was interesting. Yes. The model for the protagonist was unusually attached to her father. But it wasn't as though she was subconsciously in love with her father. It didn't sound like that, from the way she told it. It sounded less tender. But we felt that we'd dug up her buried feelings, so we were very happy. But in depicting her, <i>we debated whether to go that far or not, and we decided we would.</i> <i>Hasebe was still young then,</i> <i>and we both threw ourselves into it with great energy.</i> <i>That is, writing the script.</i> But once the script was finished, it wasn't as interesting as the notes I'd taken. We'd put together the script by rearranging the bleak narrative in the notes. In fact, we'd worked hard to make it coherent, debating over how to make sequences interesting. But the resulting script was well-written and nothing more. Our critical opinion was that it wasn't very interesting. Now that you mention it, there are many passages that don't really seem to hang together well. But that makes the film fascinating. - Precisely. I had similar experiences writing scripts later. I'm a fanatical organizer and researcher, and it bothers me when things don't hang together well. But well-constructed things aren't necessarily good either. There's something fascinating about the murkiness of things. The audience may find themselves connecting to that. When everything is organized, you can lose that connection. I realized that that sort of response occurs when things feel unsettled. Also, you might say this film is rather blunt. Before I saw this film, I believed a well-constructed film meant it was meticulously calculated, with various subplots woven together, all of them relating closely to one another. But that sort of story is fictional, when you think about it. Real life is more - Yes, it's made up of fragments of experience. It's the subconscious - As long as everything was connected to her subconscious, then it would be all right, I thought. So I intentionally made the story fragmented. Also, rather than trying to make the story itself linger and resonate in the minds of the audience, I wanted to sort of laugh off what had transpired. That's why I inserted short poems about her life. There was something else very radical about this film. Was it all shot on location? - Yes. Every single scene was shot on location? That's right. I had to deal with a lot of problems, but I chose to do it that way. It's very convenient to use sets. Once a script is written, the production designer comes in, and you discuss set design in detail. Like whether a post should be four inches or five, or whether something should be one foot higher. You discuss these details. Like building a hearth or not. You pour out all these details in your head, and the designer makes drawings. So when you film, you can remove this side of a set, or remove this part and shoot from that side. But that's not possible in a real room. So I sort of felt that sets were too convenient. I rather audaciously handicapped myself as if losing an arm, so to speak, and I decided not to use sets. So then I had to film everything on location, and that entailed having to deal with all kinds of difficulties. It was a struggle for my crew. <i>A scene in a small apartment would be shot in an actual apartment.</i> <i>When a bead curtain hung in a doorway,</i> <i>then we'd shoot through it.</i> I deliberately courted difficulties in shooting. That way, you had to devise a way around them. For instance, I'd picture a framing in my mind - like she comes into the room, moves over here and then here. But it wouldn't go that way. Even if her movement was written in the script, there was no room to film long shots, so we'd end up with close-ups. All the nuanced acting below the chest couldn't be seen onscreen. I thought it was worth making that sacrifice, though I felt I was taking a huge risk. But by handicapping yourself like that, it forces you to tap into your resources. <i>Beginning with Insect Woman,</i> we see acting in the foreground and something like the scenery of reality in the background. That is, something taking place in the actual world. Seeing that onscreen made a very dynamic impression. Well... that happened as a result of not using sets, but also because I intentionally incorporated it. I think it adds something extra to the film. It often just happens in my films unintentionally. For example, when both the interior and the exterior are framed together in a shot, it's difficult to light that, isn't it? Yes. And in an actual house where all the rooms are cramped, you can't set up lights anywhere you like. You're limited in how you can light it. Also, lens work gets restricted. As a result, you end up with long takes. Once the camera is set up, then we let the acting take over. So directing at that point is to make the subject work for you on the spot. That isn't a bad way to work. Once you gear up to shoot a sequence in one long take, then the actors really turn up their game. Some good stuff comes out of it. Speaking of long takes, Kenji Mizoguchi's use of them is well-known and legendary. His were made possible by creating well-constructed sets that allowed the camera to move freely. But doing long takes on location without using sets is very interesting. Yes... because it involves sound as well as picture. If a motorcycle passes by outside, then that ruins a take. Or you might leave it in, even if it overpowers a spoken line. I'd decide that on the spot. But sometimes unwanted noise ruins a take. But doesn't it - In regard to sound, filming everything on location must provide a certain effect. It does. Various unnecessary sounds get recorded. For example, if it starts raining while shooting, we'd just have to incorporate that into the scene. There are endless opportunities for those chance occurrences. It's something you don't encounter on a set. You can create a perfect environment to really suit your purpose, but it isn't necessarily interesting. For example, Shima hid in an apartment in Shinjuku because she was pursued by the police. She also moved to a condo in Ikebukuro. To depict that, you'd have to film in Shinjuku or Ikebukuro. Then you'd have to show scenes that would show that it was Shinjuku or whatever. I often hear that there's no point in filming on location otherwise. I didn't do that at all. The "where" didn't matter. I'd deliberately make the location unclear, showing just a wall when a window is opened. That made things more interesting. Filming on location brings with it various restrictions and charms. One of the characteristics of your films is the depiction of women with a very strong will to live. That kind of woman appears repeatedly in your films. But it's in this film that this really takes shape clearly, I think. You're right. This is one of Sachiko Hidari's most representative films. Did you cast her as the lead for some particular reason? <i>I'd seen her in The Maid's Kid, directed by Tomotaka Tasaka.</i> I was really impressed. Hidari plays this maid who runs really fast, a short-distance runner, and I really liked her work. I have a weakness for physical actions like running, falling, or carrying heavy things. I don't much care when films get too psychological. They should focus more on physical aspects. I wanted to explore, for example, how feeling hot or cold could really influence people to act. So seeing someone running really hard was pleasing to me. So I was impressed with her for that, and her acting was great. And I'd wanted to use her in a film for a long time. But then... the top brass at Nikkatsu somehow fell in love with Kyoko Kishida. They wanted me to cast her as Tome. I didn't want to, but I had her come for a screen test. I gave her some pages from the script, but she simply wasn't right for the role. The man with the real power at Nikkatsu back then was named Emori, so I went to pay him an early-morning visit in Kansai. For hours on the train to Kansai, I wrote notes about how to persuade him. And then I deliberately talked to him in a roundabout way. For 30 minutes I went on and on to him about the film's female lead. Finally, he asked, "Just why have you come here?" I still wouldn't tell him. I kept him in suspense. When I finally said I wanted Hidari, he approved at once. I believe Hidari graduated from a gymnastics school, so she had great physical abilities. At the time she was with Susumi Hani. She was pregnant with Hani's child, and that posed a bit of problem. Kazuo Kitamura had been a Shingeki actor previously. He was more or less seen as an intellectual actor. But you cast him against type as Chuji. This sort of role is actually closer to the real Kitamura. The intellectual air is a façade he shows to the world. He's far more interesting in this type of role. He often tells an exaggerated story about how he suffered and nearly died when he was thrown into this inescapable pit of a film. But he has great physical strength. He actually likes doing physical acting. Many actors with great presence appear in this film. For example, Seizaburo Kawazu. He's not in that many scenes, but he gives a wonderful performance. Yes, he was pretty conflicted. We shot his scenes on location in the apartment of the production manager's girlfriend. Kawazu and Jitsuko Yoshimura played their love scene there. Kawazu has coarse hair on the back of his hands, and I asked him to rub that hair against Yoshimura's back. He really hated the idea. He said, "I'd rather not," but he went along. I persuaded him to do it because the shot requires the camera to pan along with his hand. Jitsuko Yoshimura <i>was also in Pigs and Battleships.</i> She's typical of actresses in your films. That's true. She's ready to take on anything. She's doesn't give up easily, even if she gets knocked about. She's sturdy and energetic. But she had a bad habit of closing her eyes when she spoke. <i>It wasn't easy to break her of it on Pigs and Battleships.</i> Thank you for sharing these interesting stories today. Throughout the month of May, the Space Theater is presenting a special program featuring films by director Shohei Imamura. After each screening, Mr. Imamura will be with us to discuss his film. I hope you'll join us.


Early life

Imamura was born to a comfortably upper-middle-class doctor's family in Tokyo in 1926. For a short time after 1945, when Japan was in a devastated condition following the war, Imamura participated in the black market selling cigarettes and liquor. Reflecting this period of his life, Imamura's interests as a filmmaker were usually focused on the lower strata of Japanese society. He studied Western history at Waseda University, but spent more time participating in theatrical and political activities.[1] He cited a viewing of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon in 1950 as an early inspiration, and said he saw it as an indication of the new freedom of expression possible in Japan in the post-war era.

Early career

Upon graduation from Waseda in 1951, Imamura began his film career working as an assistant to Yasujirō Ozu at Shochiku Studios on the films Early Summer (1951), The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1952) and Tokyo Story (1953). Imamura, however, was uncomfortable with the way Ozu portrayed Japanese society. While Imamura's films were to have a quite different style from Ozu's, Imamura, like Ozu, was to focus on what he saw as particularly Japanese elements of society in his films. "I've always wanted to ask questions about the Japanese, because it's the only people I'm qualified to describe," he said. He expressed surprise that his films were appreciated overseas.[2]


Imamura left Shochiku in 1954 for a better salary at Nikkatsu. There he worked as an assistant director to Yuzo Kawashima and also co-authored the screenplay to Kawashima's Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate. Much later he edited a book about Kawashima, entitled Sayonara dake ga jinsei da.[3]

In 1958, at Nikkatsu, Imamura made his first film, Stolen Desire. With this early tale of traveling actors, Imamura indulged in some of the controversial and eccentric themes that were to mark his career as a filmmaker. Nikkatsu, however, was not enthusiastic about his more radical tendencies, and forced him to make a series of lighter films with which he was not happy. Nishi Ginza Station was a comedy based on a pop-song. Endless Desire and My Second Brother were similar light fare that did not satisfy Imamura.

His 1961 film, Pigs and Battleships was a wild and energetic story about the U.S. military base at Yokosuka and its relationship with lower elements of Japanese society. Shocked by the film and what they perceived as anti-American sentiments, Nikkatsu did not allow Imamura another project for two years. His next films, 1963's The Insect Woman and 1964's Unholy Desire showed no toning down of his style. With these three films, Imamura had established himself as a director with a strong and unique vision, and one of the leading figures of the Japanese New Wave.

Seeing himself as a cultural anthropologist, Imamura stated, "I like to make messy films",[4] and "I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure... I ask myself what differentiates humans from other animals. What is a human being? I look for the answer by continuing to make films".[5]

Imamura Productions

To more freely explore themes without studio interference, he established his own production company, Imamura Productions, in 1965. His first independent feature was a free adaptation of Akiyuki Nosaka's 1963 novel about life on the fringes of Osaka society, The Pornographers.

He next made his first venture into the documentary genre with 1967's A Man Vanishes. His 1968 film The Profound Desire of the Gods investigates the clash between modern and traditional societies on a southern Japanese island. One of Imamura's more ambitious and costly projects, this film's poor box-office performance led to a retreat back into smaller, documentary-like films for the next decade.

1970s documentaries

History of Postwar Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess and Karayuki-san, the Making of a Prostitute were two of these projects, both focusing on one of his favorite themes: Strong women who survive on the periphery of Japanese society. Imamura returned to fiction with 1979's Vengeance Is Mine, though this film about a serial killer is based on a true story.

Imamura founded the Japan Institute of the Moving Image (日本映画大学) as the Yokohama Vocational School of Broadcast and Film (Yokohama Hōsō Eiga Senmon Gakkō) in 1975.[6] While a student at this school, director Takashi Miike was given his first film credit, as assistant director on Imamura's 1987 film Zegen.[7]

1980s and after

Two large-scale remakes followed: Eijanaika (ええじゃないか, ee ja nai ka) (a re-imagining of Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate) and The Ballad of Narayama (楢山節考, Narayama bushikō), a re-telling of Keisuke Kinoshita's 1958 The Ballad of Narayama.

His eldest son Daisuke Tengan is also a script writer and film director, and worked on the screenplays to Imamura's films The Eel (1997), Dr. Akagi (1998), Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (2001) and 11'09"01 September 11 (2002).

Imamura played the role of a historian in the 2002 South Korean film 2009 Lost Memories.[8]



All films are as director except where otherwise marked.

See also


  1. ^ Nelson Kim (25 July 2003). "Shohei Imamura". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  2. ^ Nigel Kendall (14 March 2002). "Nigel Kendall talks to Japanese director, Shohei Imamura | Film | The Guardian". Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  3. ^ Imamura, Shōhei (1991). Sayonara dake ga jinsei da: eiga kantoku Kawashima Yūzō no shōgai. Tokyo: Nōberu Shobō. OCLC 37241487.
  4. ^ Archived from the original on 10 May 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2006. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "Modern Japan - Famous Japanese - Imamura Shohei". 16 November 2006. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  6. ^ 歴史と沿革 [History and Development] (in Japanese). Japan Academy of the Moving Image. Archived from the original on 28 December 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  7. ^ "Catalogue | The Masters of Cinema Series". Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  8. ^ "今村昌平 (Imamura Shōhei)" (in Japanese). Japanese Movie Database. Retrieved 3 July 2008.

Further reading

  • Notes for a study on Shohei Imamura by Donald Richie
  • Shohei Imamura (Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, No. 1) edited by James Quandt

External links

This page was last edited on 19 November 2019, at 19:45
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