Monday, February 6, 2012

#472: Pigs and Battleships

(Shohei Imamura, 1961)

Between Seijun Suzuki and Shohei Imamura, Nikkatsu unintentionally produced some of the greatest genre-busting revolutionary films of the 1960s. Pigs and Battleships is equal parts Raymond Chandler and Jean-Luc Godard, a twisted crime story that upends its own momentum. If noir is the pinnacle of the American cinema, Pigs and Battleships is meant to turn its powers on itself, with the monster finally expelled in the messy aftermath.

The pig-centered plot which propels the film's male protagonist, Kinta, to his inevitable demise isn't really the point of the film. This is a good thing, because it's so convoluted that it would necessitate multiple viewings to understand the whole story. Instead, the film is ultimately concerned with two things: the romance between Kinta and his girlfriend Haruko (who is the real protagonist of the film), and the relationship between post-war Japan and the Americans stationed there. Stylistically, the most memorable moment occurs when these two elements collide in a spinning hotel room deep into the movie's running time, but metaphorically the American occupation hovers over everything in the film, from small criminal ambitions to intimate personal dynamics.

Pigs and Battleships is an extremely dense film that hints at a simpler solution. The beauty of a Japanese noir about the impact of Americans on the lower depths of Japan is that it confirms the insidious domination of American culture in film. Even Godard's Breathless cannot help but embrace this cultural dominance (some would argue in order to lovingly smother it to death). Imamura's film is no different; as Haruko merely strives for a better, freer life, Kinto yearns for immortality through infamy, the ultimate noir-drenched American dream.

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