Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pigs and Battleships (1961)

(AKA Hogs and Warships) (Buta to Gunkan, Directed by Shohei Imamura, 1961, Japan)

The late, great Shohei Imamura was one of the leading directors in 1960's Japanese cinema. In a ten year period he directed films as
Pigs and Battleships
; The Insect Woman,
Intentions of Murder, The Pornographers: An Introduction to Anthropology, A Man Vanishes and The Profound Desire of the Gods. As a director whose work has mainly stayed outside of the mainstream due to his critical views of modern Japanese society, his films are rarely shown outside of film classes amd retrospectives. With DVD releases in recent years on the Criterion label of The Pornographers and the later serial killer crime film Vengeance is Mine, hopefully this situation will change, and more audiences will discover the earlier, great films of Shohei Imamura.

Pigs and Battleships is a good example of an Imamura film: at once a critical view of post-war Japan and creeping Americanization (the U.S. occupation in Japan post-World War II). Pigs and Battleships focuses on the lower class: Haruko, trying to keep her guy Kinta from getting involved with the local yakuza who deal in black-market pigs. Kinta is drawn into the gang's plans and finally dies in a tense, noirish shootout complete with a stampede of pigs through the local nightclub district. Haruko herself is no heroine, but will prostitute herself for enough money, including getting gang-raped by three American sailors (with whom she unsuccessfully tries to rip off).

The movie is rather comical despite the bleakness, with elements of black humor and low comedy surrounded by port town seediness. In the end, Haruko does escape but-given the film's milieu - she won't get far before trying her old tricks. The film is amazing in showing the corruption surrounding the young couple, and the characterizations are brilliant. Just don't expect a typical Hollywood ending here, in the world of this film, it doesn't work.

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