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Shohei Imamura

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Shohei Imamura Dies Aged 79

Friday 2nd June 2006 @ 14:24 GMT

Shohei Imamura, one of the key directors of the Japanese New Wave (nuberu bagu), has died of liver cancer aged 79. He was one of only a handful of directors to win the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival twice (for The Ballad Of Narayama in 1983 and The Eel in 1997), and his films explored the connection between sex and violence, and examined the zeitgeist of postwar Japan.

Imamura was born in 1926 in Tokyo. Although his films generally focused on working-class families, he was born to wealthy family and sent to an elite school (which he hated - he said of his fellow pupils: “I remember thinking that they were the kind of people who would never get close to the fundamental truths of life. Knowing them made me want to identify myself with working-class people who were true to their own human natures.”)

Overshadowed internationally by bigger names such as Kurosawa and Ozu (for whom he worked as an assistant), Imamura preferred to make “messy, really human, unsettling films”, rebelling against the Ozu school of cinema, which he saw as highly conservative. His protagonist preferences were for down-and-outs such as whores, pimps and pornographers.

Typical Imamura films include Pigs and Battleships (1961), about a woman who keeps her morals despite the corruption around her, and The Insect Woman (1963), which focuses on a middle-aged factory worker who also works as a prostitute. The Pornographer (1966), one of his better-known works, followed a man who believes he is spreading happiness through dealing in sex aids. Vengeance Is Mine* (1979) is perhaps his best known work, a controversial work about a spree killer.

In spite of the Cannes awards, Imamura was unaware of how well-respected he was in Europe, and was bewildered and moved when he attended a season of his films at the Edinburgh Film Festival and found it had been sold out.

Shohei Imamura, born September 1926; died May 2006.


This is turning out to be the worst year ever. I still can’t believe that Pat Morita and Chris Penn died. Now this.