Shohei Imamura's films dig beneath the surface of Japanese society to reveal a wellspring of sensual, often irrational, energy that lies beneath. Along with his colleagues Nagisa Oshima and Masahiro Shinoda, Imamura began his serious directorial career as a member of the New Wave movement in Japan. Reacting against the studio system, and particularly against the style of Yasujiro Ozu, the director he first assisted, Imamura moved away from the subtlety and understated nature of the classical masters to a celebration of the primitive and spontaneous aspects of Japanese life. To explore this level of Japanese consciousness, Imamura focuses on the lower classes, with characters who range from bovine housewives to shamans, and from producers of blue movies to troupes of third-rate traveling actors. He has proven himself unafraid to explore themes usually considered taboo, particularly those of incest and superstition.
Imamura himself was not born into the kind of lower-class society he depicts. The college-educated son of a physician, he was drawn toward film, and particularly toward the kinds of films he would eventually make, by his love of the avant-garde theater. Imamura has worked as a documentarian, recording the statements of Japanese who remained in other parts of Asia after the end of WWII, and of the "karayuki-san"--Japanese women sent to accompany the army as prostitutes during the war period.
His heroines tend to be remarkably strong and resilient, able to outlast, and even to combat, the exploitative situations in which they find themselves. This is a stance that would have seemed impossible for the long-suffering heroines of classical Japanese films.
In 1983, Imamura won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival for "Narayama Bushiko/The Ballad of Narayama," based on a Fukazawa novel about a village where the elderly are abandoned on a sacred mountaintop to die. Unlike director Keisuke Kinoshita's earlier version of the same story, Imamura's film, shot on location in a remote mountain village, highlights the more disturbing aspects of the tale through its harsh realism.
In his attempt to capture what is real in Japanese society, and what it means to be Japanese, Imamura used an actual 40-year-old former prostitute in his "Nippon Konchuki/The Insect Woman" (1963), a woman who was searching for her missing fiance in "Ningen Johatsu/A Man Vanishes" (1967), and a non-actress bar hostess as the protagonist of his "Nippon Sengoshi: Madamu Onboro no Seikatsu/History of Postwar Japan As Told By a Bar Hostess" (1974). Despite this anthropological bent, Imamura has cleverly mixed the real with the fictional, even within what seems to be a documentary. This is most notable in his "A Man Vanishes," in which the fiancee becomes more interested in an actor playing in the film than with her missing lover. In a time when the word "Japanese" is often considered synonymous with "coldly efficient," Imamura's vision of a more robust and intuitive Japanese character adds an especially welcome cinematic dimension.
Director (Feature Film)
Assistant Direction (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Worked for the Ofuna Studios of the Sochiku film company
Feature debut, credited as assistant director, "Early Summer/Bakusho"
Left Sochiku to join Nikkatsu studios; first feature, still as assistant director, "Black Tide/Kuroi ushio"
First screenplay, "The Balloon/Fusen"
Directorial debut, "Stolen Desire/Nusumareta yokujo"
First feature as both director and screenwriter, "Lights of Night/Nishi-Ginza Station"
Formed Imamura Productions
Debut as producer, also wrote and directed, "The Pornographers: An Introduction to Anthropology/Jinruigaku nyumon: Erogotshi Yori"
First on screen appearance, also wrote, directed and produced, "A Man Vanishes/Ningen johatsu"
Founded the Film and Radio Institute of Yokohama
Received Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or for "The Ballad of Narayama"
First feature as an executive producer, also directed and credited for screenplay, "Kuroi Ame/Black Rain"
Became only one of three directors to twice receive the Palme d'Or at Cannes when he shared the prize with Abbas Kiarostami; won award for "The Eel"
Wrote and directed "Dr. Agaki"
"Warm Water Under a Red Bridge" screened at the New York Film Festival