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Wednesday, Dec 31 1997
"Shohei Imamura's Japan"
No Babe this -- Shohei Imamura, director of the most bizarre film you've ever seen about pork on the hoof, wanted really fat pigs to run wild in the streets in the madcap finale of his Pigs and Battleships (1961), screening Sunday at the Pacific Film Archive as part of a new series of the Japanese filmmaker's works. His studio, however, would supply him only with skinny pigs and piglets. Demonstrating the flair for improvisation that has served him well over his 40-year career, Imamura settled for shooting the pigs in intense close-up, employing the trademark telephoto shots that have rendered him an anthropologist of degraded, triumphant humanity, as well as of pigs, since his directorial debut in 1958. Initially an assistant to the refined Yasujiro Ozu, Imamura rejected his tutelage once he assumed the director's chair; as critic Dave Kehr puts it, Ozu's characters barely move, while Imamura's bark their lines and fling "every available limb" as they crawl their way through a rancid milieu of carnies, bars, and, in Pigs and Battleships, the brothels built for occupying American forces after World War II. This film, screening with the highly regarded The Insect Woman (1963), marked Imamura as an aggressively vulgar director interested in making, as he put it, "messy films" about traditional Japanese ideals and characters cracking under the pressure of the new postwar era. Of late he's gone full circle, with elegiac films like The Ballad of Narayama (1983) and Black Rain (1989) more in line with his beginnings with Ozu. The best work of this frequently coarse and always subtle social commentator will unspool over the rest of the month in Berkeley; just avoid eating pork before Sunday's screening.

-- Gregg Rickman

Pigs and Battleships screens at 5:30 p.m. (with The Insect Woman at 7:30 p.m.), on Sunday, Jan. 4, at the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley. Tickets are $5.50, $1.50 for the second show; call (510) 642-1124. See the Pacific Film Archive entry in Reps Etc., Page 66, for a complete schedule.

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Gregg Rickman


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