The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
“Subu” Ogata is an illegal artist, a skinflickmeister making two films a day, who reasons he is making a valuable social contribution. (Discussions amongst Subu and collaborators, such as his cutter, convey their absolute seriousness about their work.) He lives with Haru, who, believing her dead husband, reincarnated as a carp, disapproves, is herself ambivalent about their relationship. Subu finds himself increasingly attracted to Haru’s daughter, Keiko, whose surrogate father he has been since she was little, and whose flirtatiousness summons all Subu’s powers of resistance. Meanwhile, Subu must hide from the law and the mob.
Shohei Imamura’s wickedly funny black comedy Jinruigaku nyumon: Erogotshi yori satirizes both sides of the coin of sexual impulses: the government, for denying their existence in attempting to sanitize art; Subu, for yielding to them, at home and at work. It also addresses the human capacity for self-examination that results in transforming existential life into an object of study featuring “meaningful” symbols (camera; carp). Imamura additionally weighs humanity’s voyeuristic preoccupation, which helps explain all these matters as well as cinema itself.
It is structured as a film about a film (the interior one being Ogata’s personal story), an early image showing a window within the screen populated by those viewing the film; they could be looking at us. (Subsequent images feature another window, populated by someone else, inside the frame.) Thus Imamura adapts realism for his purposes. Elsewhere, images are surreal dreams punctuated by freeze frames. They mine Ogata’s history, psyche.
Ogata has his priorities, and all hell breaks out when he spends Haru’s savings to save money by setting up his own film processing laboratory. To quote Seiko: “Everything is about money.”
Except for some floor-level shots, one would never guess that Imamura’s mentor was Yasujiro Ozu!
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