This is classic Imamura: prostituition, criminals, racketeering, bribes, murder and more. This is Imamura's Japan, what he considers the real Japan. The other Japan - the postcard perfect one - is a figment of the imagination. I like this perspective. It reminds me of the dishonesty inherent in society, how people like to project their perfect family life, when in actuality it's all a facade.
The struggles of the protagonists were captivating. It's nineteenth century Japan, and Genji (Shigeru Izumiya) returns after being missing six years at sea. His wife Ine (Kaori Momoi) has left the village and found work in a carnival in Edo (current Tokyo). The carnival is owned by a criminal who keeps Ine as his mistress. Genji reunites with Ine, but life is complicated and their endeavours are thwarted in various ways.
I found the plot convoluted, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I did have problems following all the relationships and the various political and treacherous intrigues. It contributed to an interesting and engaging plot. I did find the film a little long, and when it morphed into a musical at the end, it was uplifiting but inconsistent with the rest of the film. I'm probably putting myself in the firing line in saying this (I know Imamura has a lot of passionate fans), but the end just didn't work for me, even though I enjoyed the 'rude' aspects (there was a can-can dance like you've never seen before). I probably need to see this film again at another time.