Vengeance Is Shohei Imamura (Film Series)

Co-presented with Japan Foundation

January 17-February 1, 2014

Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021

One of the most recognized filmmakers in the history of Japanese cinema, Shohei Imamura (1926-2006) enjoyed a career that spanned over four decades and is one of only seven filmmakers ever to have been awarded the Palme d’Or twice (for The Ballad of Narayama, 1983 and The Eel, 1997). Displaying a particular interest in the lower strata of society — what Imamura considers the consciousness of Japan — the director populates the screen with impoverished women and social outcasts such as crooks, prostitutes, and pimps. Dark, messy, and bawdy, Imamura’s films observe the primal elements of human behavior and are quasi-anthropological studies of postwar Japan. This mini-series samples works made during the first three decades of the auteur’s career. While the selection highlights some of Imamura’s trademarks, it also presents the range of work that the director has accomplished.

Imamura was born to an upper-middle-class family in 1926. But after Japan’s surrender at the end of WWII, he made a living in the black market selling illegal cigarettes and liquor. It was then when Imamura became acquainted with the world of the underclass. After graduating from university in 1951, he joined the Shochiku film studio. There Imamura assisted the venerable Yasujiro Ozu on three films — Early Summer (1951), The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) and Tokyo Story (1953) — but was underwhelmed by the master’s measured aesthetic. He later worked under director Yuzo Kawashima (Bakumatsu taiyô-den, 1957). Although not as well-known as Ozu, Kawashima’s eccentric comedies made an impression on the aspiring director. Imamura made his directorial debut in 1958 with Stolen Desire. Imamura is considered a key member of the Japanese New Wave from the late 1950s through the early 1970s, along with filmmakers such as Nagisa Oshima, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Seijun Suzuki.

Free admission. 

All films with English subtitles. Click on individual programs for tickets and more information.

Co-presented with Japan Foundation.

Part of Citi Series on Asian Arts and Culture


Endless Desire
Shohei Imamura. 1958. Japan. 100 min. b/w. 35mm. With English subtitles.

w. Hiroyuki Nagato, Sanea Nakahara, Ko Nishimura
Friday, January 17, 2014, 6:30 pm

A decade after Japan’s WWII surrender, a group of seedy characters gather to retrieve a valuable cache of morphine buried during the war. To reach the treasure, now located underneath a butcher’s shop, the group must dig an underground tunnel from a nearby house. While digging is in progress, group members scheme against each other. A few irritating locals and a planned slum demolition further threaten to derail the project. This dark comedy, Imamura’s third feature made in his directorial debut year, already displays the auteur’s penchant for observing basic instincts in the messy underworld. Print courtesy of Japan Foundation.


A Man Vanishes
Shohei Imamura. 1967. Japan. 130 min. b/w. Digibeta. With English subtitles.

w. Yoshie Hayakawa, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Sayo Hayakawa
Saturday, January 18, 2013, 6:30 pm

A young salesman, Tadashi, has suddenly disappeared, leaving behind his fiancée, Yoshie. This documentary follows Yoshie’s search for the missing man. As she tracks down acquaintances of Tadashi, the investigation turns increasingly confusing as fiction and reality collide. Yoshie behaves more and more like an actor, loses interest in the search, and unexpectedly declares her love for a member of the documentary team. Getting nowhere in the search, Imamura suddenly calls the film fictitious on screen and intentionally introduces fictitious elements. This shocking documentary questions the notion of authenticity like no other. An Icarus Films Release.  


Vengeance Is Mine
Shohei Imamura. 1979. Japan. 128 min. Color. 35mm. With English subtitles.

w. Ken Ogata, Rentaro Mikuni, Chocho Miyako
Friday, January 24, 2014, 6:30 pm

After about a decade making documentaries, Imamura returned to fiction with this film inspired by the true story of a gruesome 78-day killing spree and manhunt. In this career-defining film, Ken Ogata delivers an unforgettable performance as Iwao Enokizu, a con artist, thief, lady charmer, and murderer. The film begins with Iwao entering jail. A series of flashbacks take us back in time to revisit the murderer’s past and his horrendous crimes. Such a reverse chronological structure makes the film more of a character study than a suspenseful crime thriller. This intense portrait of a menacing mind is at once poignant and chilling. A Janus Films Release.


The Ballad of Narayama
Shohei Imamura. 1983. Japan. 130 min. Color. 35mm. With English subtitles.

w. Sumiko Sakamoto, Ken Ogata, Aki Takejo
Saturday, January 25, 2014, 6:00 pm

In a remote village, an unusual custom is practiced: elders who have reached the age of 70 are taken to the summit of Mount Narayama, where they are left to die. Orin, 69, although still vital, is prepared to make this journey. But before she goes, she needs to identify a wife for one of her sons, find a woman to sleep with a younger son, and deal with a slew of messy troubles. All of a sudden, the solemn theme of death takes a backseat as human desires, animal instincts, and the forces of nature are fully experienced. This Palme d’Or winner explores the essence that binds human beings, animals, and nature in a passionate way that is uniquely Imamura. Print courtesy of Japan Foundation.


Black Rain
Shohei Imamura. 1989. Japan. 123 min. b/w. 35mm. With English subtitles.

w. Kazuo Kitamura, Etsuko Ichihara, Yoshiko Tanaka
Saturday, February 1, 2014, 6:00 pm

Yasuko was exposed to black rain, the radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Years later, she and her townsmen continue to rebuild their lives and endure the aftermath. At an age ripe for marriage, Yosuko has been rejected by man after man for fear of radiation, even though she has shown no signs of any illness. The film juxtaposes present-day struggles with flashbacks to scenes of wartime devastation. A departure from Imamura’s usual interest in bawdy human behavior, this film brings him closer to his early mentor Ozu, who is known for his restrained and subdued study of quiet dignity and for whom Imamura acted as assistant director.


Special thanks: Brian Belovarac (Janus Films), Livia Bloom (Icarus Films), Miki Hotta (Japan Foundation), Kanako Shirasaki (Japan Foundation).