Yet another excellent film by Japanese director Shôhei Imamura! I'm amazed by how much great work he made!
'Intentions of Murder' revolves around Sadako, a plump woman with a peasant background who is abused by her loveless husband and in-laws and is raped by a degenerate thief. Her life is so full of bitterness and suffering, that she constantly contemplates committing suicide. Unbearably heavy as that may sound, the film is very artfully carried by Imamura's skill, inventiveness and great wisdom. The director never makes fun of Sadako's tragedy on the contrary, he shows the deepest sympathy for her (much like he does for the female lead in his previous film, 'The Insect Woman') but he handles the film's material with a relatively light touch by making use of a playful soundtrack and by highlighting the absurdity of its situations in a way that sometimes verges on black comedy. This is the story of an underdog who, while devoid of any wit, much wealth or classic good looks, is possessed with the strongest mettle and tenacity.
A recurring theme in his work (and particularly in my favorite film of his, 'Profound Desire of the Gods') is the clash between the structured mores of society and our unruly human desires and emotions. Inconvenient as it may be, our animal nature doesn't always accept the order that we try to impose on it rationally. This contradiction between different impulses can cause confusion, embarrassment, distress, violence... And yet, to some extent we're left with no choice but to somehow come to terms with that wild, anarchic aspect of our humanity.
I think it's fair to say that beyond our survival and animal instincts, the director points to love (both self-love and love for those around us) as the best compass in life. In this case, Sadako's love for her son serves her as a guiding light, even when it all seems hopeless. Imamura, despite populating many of his films with despicable, selfish characters, in the end seems to show some faith in human kind. It's a welcome spark of optimism in what would otherwise be a very darkly cynical perspective.
In an interview provided as an extra-feature by the Criterion Collection, Imamura explains that he needed to loosen up after having finished his 1960 film, 'My Second Brother', which won international acclaim but was too strait-laced for his taste. His style began to change after that, and I believe it's with 'Intentions of Murders' that the director began to play with surrealism, something that would become more prominent in later films like 'The Pornographers' and 'Warm Water Under The Red Bridge'.
It's true that a few of the metaphors in this film are a little too obvious (particularly the hamster in the cage). But there's so much more going on here, including beautiful black and white photography, a powerful story in general and really solid acting. This is a film that I highly recommend watching.
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