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Friday, April 23, 2010

BUTA TO GUNKAN / PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS (1961)


This immensely entertaining film from Japanese helmer Shohei Imamura was originally hailed for its scathing look at life around an American naval base in Japan. But time has tamed its fangs and it now plays less as an indictment of warring gangs of Yakuza, seedy neighborhoods, brothels, booze & boys-on-leave, then like the flip-side of a pitch-black service comedy. In American cinematic terms, it merges the bleak nighttime milieu of SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS/’57 with the spirit of a Blake Edwards/Richard Quine SNAFU-military comedy with Jack Lemmon or Ernie Kovacs gaming the system. But here, the POV is on the locals. Hiroyuki Nagato, in a rather overdrawn perf, stars as the main weasel, a fledgling gangster up to his neck in a scam to use scraps from those big battleships as fodder for a mob run pig farm. But his girl (a superb Jitsuko Yoshimura) is pressuring him to leave the biz, his boss is dying of stomach cancer, a dead body refuses to stay underwater and the pigs need to be brought to market. Imamura melds the dramatic & comic elements like a sensei, the fluid staging, pacing & CinemaScope compositions are phenomenal, and the pigs-in-port finale is a masterpiece. A great intro to Imamura.

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