Shōhei Imamura

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Shōhei Imamura
Shōhei Imamura.jpg
Born(1926-09-15)15 September 1926
Died30 May 2006(2006-05-30) (aged 79)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupationdirector, screenwriter, producer, actor
Years active1951–2002
AwardsGolden Palm
1983 The Ballad of Narayama
1997 The Eel
Japan Academy Prize Picture of the Year
1980 Vengeance Is Mine
1984 The Ballad of Narayama
1990 Black Rain
Japan Academy Prize for Director of the Year
1980 Vengeance Is Mine
1990 Black Rain
1998 The Eel

Shōhei Imamura (今村 昌平, Imamura Shōhei, 15 September 1926 – 30 May 2006) was a Japanese film director. A key figure in the Japanese New Wave, who continued working into the 21st century, Imamura is the only director from Japan to win two Palme d'Or awards.

Early life[edit]

Imamura was born to a comfortably upper-middle-class doctor's family in Tokyo in 1926. For a short time after 1945, when Japan was in a devastated condition following the war, Imamura participated in the black market selling cigarettes and liquor. Reflecting this period of his life, Imamura's interests as a filmmaker were usually focused on the lower strata of Japanese society. He studied Western history at Waseda University, but spent more time participating in theatrical and political activities.[1] He cited a viewing of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon in 1950 as an early inspiration, and said he saw it as an indication of the new freedom of expression possible in Japan in the post-war era.

Early career[edit]

Upon graduation from Waseda in 1951, Imamura began his film career working as an assistant to Yasujirō Ozu at Shochiku Studios on the films Early Summer (1951), The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1952) and Tokyo Story (1953). Imamura, however, was uncomfortable with the way Ozu portrayed Japanese society. While Imamura's films were to have a quite different style from Ozu's, Imamura, like Ozu, was to focus on what he saw as particularly Japanese elements of society in his films. "I've always wanted to ask questions about the Japanese, because it's the only people I'm qualified to describe," he said. He expressed surprise that his films were appreciated overseas.[2]


Imamura left Shochiku in 1954 for a better salary at Nikkatsu. There he worked as an assistant director to Yuzo Kawashima and also co-authored the screenplay to Kawashima's Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate. Much later he edited a book about Kawashima, entitled Sayonara dake ga jinsei da.[3]

In 1958, at Nikkatsu, Imamura made his first film, Stolen Desire. With this early tale of traveling actors, Imamura indulged in some of the controversial and eccentric themes that were to mark his career as a filmmaker. Nikkatsu, however, was not enthusiastic about his more radical tendencies, and forced him to make a series of lighter films with which he was not happy. Nishi Ginza Station was a comedy based on a pop-song. Endless Desire and My Second Brother were similar light fare that did not satisfy Imamura.[citation needed]

His 1961 film, Pigs and Battleships was a wild and energetic story about the U.S. military base at Yokosuka and its relationship with lower elements of Japanese society. The film was released at a very delicate time in U.S.-Japan relations, in the immediate aftermath of the massive 1960 Anpo protests in Japan against the U.S-Japan Security Treaty (known as "Anpo" in Japanese), and widespread outrage that the new treaty meant the continuation of U.S. military bases on Japanese soil. Shocked by the film and what they perceived as its anti-American sentiments, Nikkatsu did not allow Imamura another project for two years. His next films, 1963's The Insect Woman and 1964's Unholy Desire showed no toning down of his style. With these three films, Imamura had established himself as a director with a strong and unique vision, and one of the leading figures of the Japanese New Wave.[citation needed]

Seeing himself as a cultural anthropologist, Imamura stated, "I like to make messy films",[4] and "I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure... I ask myself what differentiates humans from other animals. What is a human being? I look for the answer by continuing to make films".[5]

Imamura Productions[edit]

To more freely explore themes without studio interference, he established his own production company, Imamura Productions, in 1965. His first independent feature was a free adaptation of Akiyuki Nosaka's 1963 novel about life on the fringes of Osaka society, The Pornographers.

He next made his first venture into the documentary genre with 1967's A Man Vanishes. His 1968 film The Profound Desire of the Gods investigates the clash between modern and traditional societies on a southern Japanese island. One of Imamura's more ambitious and costly projects, this film's poor box-office performance led to a retreat back into smaller, documentary-like films for the next decade.

1970s documentaries[edit]

History of Postwar Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess and Karayuki-san, the Making of a Prostitute were two of these projects, both focusing on one of his favorite themes: Strong women who survive on the periphery of Japanese society. Imamura returned to fiction with 1979's Vengeance Is Mine, though this film about a serial killer is based on a true story.

Imamura founded the Japan Institute of the Moving Image (日本映画大学) as the Yokohama Vocational School of Broadcast and Film (Yokohama Hōsō Eiga Senmon Gakkō) in 1975.[6] While a student at this school, director Takashi Miike was given his first film credit, as assistant director on Imamura's 1987 film Zegen.[7]

1980s and after[edit]

Two large-scale remakes followed: Eijanaika (ええじゃないか, ee ja nai ka) (a re-imagining of Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate) and The Ballad of Narayama (楢山節考, Narayama bushikō), a re-telling of Keisuke Kinoshita's 1958 The Ballad of Narayama.

His eldest son Daisuke Tengan is also a script writer and film director, and worked on the screenplays to Imamura's films The Eel (1997), Dr. Akagi (1998), Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (2001) and 11'09"01 September 11 (2002).

Imamura played the role of a historian in the 2002 South Korean film 2009 Lost Memories.[8]



All films are as director except where otherwise marked.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nelson Kim (25 July 2003). "Shohei Imamura". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  2. ^ Nigel Kendall (14 March 2002). "Nigel Kendall talks to Japanese director, Shohei Imamura | Film | The Guardian". Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  3. ^ Imamura, Shōhei (1991). Sayonara dake ga jinsei da: eiga kantoku Kawashima Yūzō no shōgai. Tokyo: Nōberu Shobō. OCLC 37241487.
  4. ^ Archived from the original on 10 May 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2006. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "Modern Japan - Famous Japanese - Imamura Shohei". 16 November 2006. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  6. ^ 歴史と沿革 [History and Development] (in Japanese). Japan Academy of the Moving Image. Archived from the original on 28 December 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  7. ^ "Catalogue | The Masters of Cinema Series". Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  8. ^ "今村昌平 (Imamura Shōhei)" (in Japanese). Japanese Movie Database. Retrieved 3 July 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Notes for a study on Shohei Imamura by Donald Richie
  • Shohei Imamura (Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, No. 1) edited by James Quandt

External links[edit]