Monday, February 15, 2010

Pigs & Battleships (1961)

Dir: Shohei Imamura
Criterion DVD

This is the story of Kinta, the lowest man on the Yakuza totem pole in a town built around the largest American Naval base near Tokyo in post-war Japan. Kinta's job is to take care of the pigs, whose fate and ownership always seem to be in question. Kinta's girlfriend is Haruko. She wants Kinta to run away with her and get a low-paying but respectable factory job some where so they can leave this life of filth and crime, where Haruko's own mother pushes her to be a prostitute or mistress to an American officer. Kinta, however, wants no part in a factory job and yearns to be a band manager or pimp, as these things are held in higher regard by his peers. Imamaura portrays the Americans as brutes and morons that have no concern for the Japanese people while the Japanese are portrayed as petty, bickering back-stabbers that can only aspire to more fruitful lives of crime. Haruko is the only main character with a sensible head and even she makes some decisions that she must persevere through before taking matters into her own hands. This is a recurring theme with Imamura and one of his best traits, his ability to create women characters that can overcome their situations. Imamura is a masterful director that can inject a bit of dark humor into these depressing situations without undermining the intent. Things are so bad for these people that what else is there to do sometimes except to laugh? The title Pigs & Battleships can be taken at face value but is also a metaphor for how the Japanese are being treated. They are actually trying to buy food scraps from the battleships to eat. Imamura frames the scenes in village, and chose to use a telephoto lens in close-ups, to give a real sense of claustrophobia, like these characters are living in pens themselves.
This disc is part of the Pigs, Pimps, and Prostitutes set from Criterion and I believe it's essential viewing. This disc has an hour long documentary on the director from French television and an interview/ analysis about his specific film with critic Tony Rayns.


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