Director Shohei Imamura, who portrayed modern Japan’s downtrodden in raw realism and eroticism and became the first Japanese to win the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes twice, died of cancer.
He was 79.
Often considered the top Japanese director since the late Akira Kurosawa, Imamura was a pioneer of the country’s New Wave movement, moving away from classical themes to focus on prostitutes, ex-convicts and other characters from the underground.
Others will eulogize Imamura with far more knowledge and poetry than we ever can (and some have already), but we…we will always associate him with the extremely prosaic (and ever limited) foreign film section of the local Hollywood Video of our suburban youth. We’d pore over the unchanging selection on the single shelf (one whose contents, we imagine, are echoed in every rental chain in the country: dozens and dozens of dusty copies of "Au Revoir, Les Enfants" star-scattered across the strip malls of America) and choose a title, and sometimes it was forgettable, and sometimes it was anything but.
We haven’t been in a video store (chain or not) in ages â€” "Black Rain" and "Vengeance is Mine" and other standards of our formative years likely aren’t standards anymore, gone with the days of VHS. Still, the memory of picking up "Black Rain," "Vengeance," "The Eel" for the first time is as strong in our mind as watching the films â€” that feeling was the promise of something weighty and great. Imamura’s films are hopelessly (and rightly) entangled with our early sense of quality cinema, and time and hundreds of other films have yet to change that.