豚と軍艦 / Pigs & Battleships (Shohei Imamura, 1961)

Partly as story about criminal gangs, partly a love story and partly social commentary, Pigs and Battleships succeeds in many ways. Perhaps its biggest success is being a vehicle for Imamura to stick two fingers up at the Nikkatsu Corporation, who had forced him to product uncharacteristically light fare (such as Nishi-Ginza Station), returning to the electric edginess hinted at in his debut picture Stolen Desire (also featured here).

This tone would be the cornerstone of a rich career in the film industry and Pigs & Battleships was the first time the world saw what Imamura was capable of. The unexpected controversy coupled with a spiraling budget led to Imamura being banned from directing by Nikkatsu for two years.

The plot of the film revolves around the frictional relationship between Kinta (Hiroyuki Nagato) and Haruko (Jitsuko Yoshimura). Kinta is a member of the local yakuza gang who are hatching a plan to farm and sell pork to the occupying US Naval Forces. Haruko is desperate for them both to move away from the tricky environment they both live in; she is two-months pregnant and still being sold by her mother for dates with US sailors. Kinta, though, is his own man and wants to make a name for himself and thus avoid becoming a slave to the wage.

A wonderful new put-down enters our lives.

A wonderful new put-down enters our lives.

Sinsaku Himeda’s cinematography contributes to a beautiful-looking picture and, coupled with some wonderfully-realised characterisation by Imamura, the film is extremely accessible and enjoyable even for those without an affinity for Japanese political films over half a century old. As the film progresses, the focus shifts from Kinta to Haruko, with the storyline almost outgrowing the former’s immature and selfish outlook to focus on Haruko’s determination to find a better life. This is the overarching statement achieved in the film, with Imamura drawing on his own experiences as a black-marketeer with American soldiers to clearly point out to any viewers willing to look under the cracking façade that the post-war occupation of Japan by the US Forces with creating a disjointed and self-destructive society in which nobody could hope to build a future for themselves.

The Masters of Cinema dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD of Pigs and Battleships + Stolen Desire is available to purchase now.

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