Life of a pornographer who tries to stay under the radar of the mob. He has a mistress, a step-son, a step-daughter (whom he's attracted to) and a wife who believes her first husband was reincarnated as a restless carp.
In a poor 19th century rural Japanese village, everyone who reaches the age of 70 has to climb a nearby mountain to die. An old woman is getting close to the cut-off age, and we follow her last days with her family.
While his wife and children are away on holiday, a henpecked, daydreaming pharmacist begins a flirtatious relationship with the pretty girl in the boutique opposite. Almost a Japanese screwball comedy.
Amorality in Japan. Tome is born into poverty in rural Japan, in the late 1910s. Chuji, her father, dotes on her; her mother is less faithful. Tome becomes a neighbor's mistress, works at his mill as World War II rages, and has a daughter. After an affair with a mill supervisor, Tome goes to Tokyo to seek her fortune. She leaves the child, Nobuko, in Chuji's care. Tome's a maid at a brothel, learns trade from the madam, enjoys the protection of a businessman whose mistress she becomes, and is soon herself the boss. As Chuji ages and Nobuko grows up with her own ideas, can Tome's self-preserving schemes provide continued comfort? Or will the mice scamper over her? Written by
Insect Woman seems to be Imamura's Trojan horse in the world scene. Not the stunning debut of a young up and coming director that catches everyone unawares, Imamura had quite a few films under his belt by that point. Not even the film that cemented his reputation because if critical recognition and prestigious awards predate rather than follow public awareness then Imamura is only in the past 10 years beginning to earn his due.
But with Insect Woman he emerged not only as a preeminent auteur and bright hope of what is known as the Nuberu Bagu movement, who would be twice decored with the coveted Palm D'Or in time, this perhaps a status that is often subliminally associated with notions of a haughty intelligenzia hermetically removed from the populus whose struggles and follies it purports to address, but also an artist equal parts humane and cynic who picks his characters from the lowest strata of society and examines their lower instincts with care and affection. Moral judgement is absent from the film. The life and misadventures of a poor farmer's illegitimate daughter who travels to Tokyo and becomes first a prostitute then the owner of a call-girl service is observed in a matter of fact way. He never allows the movie to careen in melodramatic shallows and moralistic histrionics. If Imamura has a case to make and premise to prove, it's of a political nature.
Spanning almost half a century of Japanese history, the story of Insect Woman parallels the rise and fall of Japan in the years leading to and after WWII. The rise from humble beginnings to power and the subsequent fall with the bitter feeling of having been betrayed by everyone. Like other Imamura movies, Insect Woman can be tedious at parts, not because nothing happens. Superficially there is a succession of episodes. But really because little to nothing meaningful happens. Sprawling in nature and rarely stopping to examine motives and psychology, Insect Woman even at its most intimate moments places a certain distance between viewer and film and in doing so allows for an often comedic tinge to seep in. As such, it doesn't have some deep insight into human nature to depart but it's mostly pleasing to watch and Imamura's filmic language feels amazingly fresh and vibrant even to this day. The man was 20 years ahead of his time and his films have aged in all the right ways.
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