Imamura was discussed in relation to other directors of the time and how he differed. Other aspects covered were use of the symbolism of animals, the use of a documentary format, his recasting of Japanese stereotypes and the depiction of woman (both sexy and motherly, in contrast to the whore/mother paradigm). Freda mentioned that while Japan is generally known as a patriarchal society, Imamura depicted woman as stronger in will than men - perhaps a type of matriarchy, a concept that I have much sympathy for. As someone new to Imamura's films, it was great to be able to put some perspective to his work at a time when several of them are screening.
The Ballad of Narayama (Narayama bushiko, Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1983)
The screening of The Ballad of Narayama directly followed Freda Freiberg's talk, and sure enough, many of the points she made were visible in this film. Most notable was the regular appearance of animals, mirroring the actions of the humans, reinforcing humans as part of nature and the natural order. There were mating animals such as snakes, representing human lovers, a fox representing a thief and an owl devouring a mouse representing the village's killing a family.
In The Ballad of Narayama, set late nineteenth century rural Japan, Imamura doesn't differentiate between humans and other species as inter-related with nature. Birth and death are handled dispassionately. The final journey of the film involves a tribal custom of carrying one's parent to the top of the mountain to die. The concept and execution are poetic. Ken Ogata once again stars, and has good screen presence. He is handsome in an unconventional way. The film is infused with humour and a sense of humanity. It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1983 and I enjoyed this it a lot.
The Ballad of Narayama had a single screening at MIFF as part of the Shohei Imamura retrospective. Also still to be screened: Black Rain, Eijanaika, Intentions of Murder, A Man Vanishes & The Pornographers.
The Night of Truth (La nuit de la vérité, Fanta Régina Nacro, Burkino Faso, 2004)
The Night of Truth refers to a peace accord between government and rebel troops who are joining at the camp of the rebels to celebrate peace at the end of a civil war. But terrible atrocities have been committed by both sides, and animosity threatens the peace. Taking place in one day, this little gem really engages right from the start and is a terrific tribute to peace and forgiveness, a common theme with Dry Season, also set in Africa.
The film quickly builds tension with a believable sense of mutual mistrust between the parties. The leaders of each side are committed to the peace process and each faces obstacles within their respective ranks who do not share that faith. Some have agendas of their own that threaten to derail the process. This is an impressive debut by Fanta Régina Nacro. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the end was disappointing, but it wasn't quite able to maintain the same level of believability as the first two acts. An excellent story with universal and current themes, good performances and good visuals make this well-worth seeing.
Hana (Hana yori mo naho,
This is Kore-eda's most recent film, produced by Shochiku Studios. That fact would not normally hold much meaning for me, but having watched the film in the company of Freda Freiberg, who gave the talk earlier in the day on Shohei Imamura (and is renowned for her knowledge of Japanese cinema), I learnt that this film's part-comedy/part-pathos is typical product for this studio.
While the film's cinematography and attention to period detail (set in the slums of 1702 Edo, now Tokyo) were excellent, the story itself was pretty lame. A young samurai, incompetent with a sword seeks revenge for his father's death, but finds himself unable to carry out the act. There's no doubting the competence of the director and the film's visuals are a joy to behold. It's not something that particularly engages me, but is the sort of film I would love to take my six year old son to. The blend of humour and almost slapstick action would certainly be enjoyed by him. Mind you, this is not really a children's film, even though it has the appeal of a Japanese version of a Disney film. Many adults would enjoy it, but it's not my thing.