Pigs and Battleships (1961)

Pausing our course through the Chabrol box briefly to take advantage of SBS2 showing Imamura-san’s first “real” film tonight… I could only get cover art for the whole Criterion collection of his films, not for this one by itself, but it looks like I shall be investing in the box anyway the next time I see it around, cos I liked this (and hopefully the DVD will be better than SBS’ old and problematic print too). Imamura had been assistant director to Yasujiro Ozu in the 50s, an experience which apparently made him determined to establish himself as the anti-Ozu when he graduated to directing himself. And, to be sure, though Ozu did make crime films in the silent era, I don’t think he would ever have made one where the crooks kill someone and feed the guy’s body to pigs. Our “hero” is a young man called Kinta, of rather doubtful intelligence but with plans to become a big man by working for a gang who operate around a port town full of American sailors and ships; this gang is so small-scale, however, they don’t even count as yakuza per se, with one of their main bits of business being a fairly humble piggery. We’ve seen this sort of thing before, the kid who becomes a gangster to avoid a real job, and the girlfriend who wishes he’d give it all up, and gangster solidarity not being all it’s cracked up to be, but the particular setting (this Yank-infested town where both the locals and the visitors are stuck in happily (?) mutual exploitation) gives it flavour, along with Imamura’s sense of black humour (when one of the gang tries to throw himself under a train but fails, we see him standing next to a billboard for life insurance). And I’ve never heard of any other film of this sort that ends with hundreds of pigs (i.e. actual pigs, not figurative ones) rampaging through the streets in pursuit of the crooks. Great.

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