As Japan recovered from World War II, its film industry entered a golden age, which extended from about 1948 through the end of the 1960s. The outpouring of memorable films, many of them deeply critical of Japanese society, became one of the extraordinary eras in the history of cinema. Sadly, much of this achievement is not well known in the United States. Only people who have access to a leading film archive are likely to see many of these films (and they are best seen in a theater).
For several decades, Pacific Film Archive has been stalwart in programming classic Japanese films. Beginning May 25th, the archive will present an extensive series of films (a total of 18) by one of the great Japanese filmmakers, Shohei Imamura. Prior to that date, a handful of these films will also be shown at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.
Imamura’s 1963 film, The Insect Woman, ranks in my mind as one of the great films of world cinema. The title has the ring of science fiction, but viewers will see it has a different meaning. The film depicts a woman’s blind struggle to survive during wartime and in postwar Japan. Sachiko Hidari gives the performance of a lifetime. The film will be shown at the Castro on Thursday, May 17th, at 8:00 pm.
Another gem is The Pornographers (1966), a perverse and comic study of a middle-aged man who sets out to make porno films (and that's not all). He lives with a widow who believes the soul of her dead husband inhabits a carp in a fish tank beside her bed. This film will be shown at the Castro on Saturday, May 12th, at 8:00 pm.
The other films in the Castro series are also notable, and the full series at PFA is a feast.
The photo at the top is from The Pornographers (image from the Castro website).