typical Japanese tragedy, Shohei
Imamuras The Insect Woman is the
story of a working-class Japanese girl,
born in 1918 to poor tenant farmers,
whose life seems destined to spiral
disastrously out of control...
BORN TO A POOR COUNTRY WOMAN in Japan in the winter of 1918, Tome Matsuki
(played as an adult by Sachiko Hidari, who won Best Actress Award at the 1964
Berin Film Festival for the role) is never to find happiness and security. Chuji
(Kazuo Kitamura) may not even be her natural father as her mother En had given
herself to the landlord to help the family.
When Tome is six years old she begins to ask questions and her father admits
he is not married to En. In the Spring of 1942, Tome is working at the silk
factory and her family call her home as her father is ill. But they actually
want her to be nice to Mr Honda, the landlord, as they owe him money. Chuji
beats En for encouraging her daughter to do this for them and because Tome cannot
bear to see her mother hurt, she agrees to do it.
By then an unhealthy relationship has developed between Tome and her father.
The family is hoping for a marriage with the landlord's son, but when Tome comes
back pregnant and gives birth to a daughter, Nobuko (played as an adult by Jitsuko
Yoshimura), on New Year's Day, 1943, all thoughts of marriage are abandoned.
Tome returns to her job at the silk factory and in August, 1945, there is an
air raid and the factory is evacuated. Tome has been having an affair with the
clerk "because he was nice to me". When it is announced that Japan lost the
war, it is a shock to the people.
Chuji is constantly reassuring Tome that he will repay the Hondas the money
he owes them and that he will find somewhere for them to live with Nobuko. When
the clerk ends their affair, Tome also loses her job and by the Summer of 1949
she has left home.
She meets Midori (Masumi Harukawa), who is seeing an American solider and has
a child, Cathy, by him. But tragedy strikes, leaving Tome feeling distressed
and unworthy and so desperate that she becomes a Buddhist and attends confession.
There she meets a woman (Tanie Kitabyashi) who offers her help and a job, but
she is being sucked further down a slippery slope.
Shohei Imamura compares the restlessness and survival instincts of his heroine,
Tome, to those of worker insects. Tome goes from one uncomfortable situation
to another, never finding fulfilment. In order to survive she will do anything;
and the film is a stark study of working-class female life. Beginning with Tome's
birth in 1918, The Insect Woman follows her through five decades of social
change, several improvised careers and male-inflicted cruelty.
Elliptically plotted, brimming over with black humour and taboo material, and
immaculately staged in crystalline NikkatsuScope, The Insect Woman is
arguably Imamura's most radical and emphatic testament to the female resilience.
At times difficult to watch, The Insect Woman is the story of a tough
but vulnerable Japanese woman who is born into unfortunate circumstances and
follows an uneasy path to care for herself and her family.
The Insect Woman is a harsh but fascinating account of a working-class woman's
determination to survive that will appeal to fans of dark Japanese films. Director
Shohei Imamura once observed: "My heroines are true to life just look
around you at Japanese women. They are strong; and they outlive men."
The result is described as an audacious, anthropological approach to filmmaking
that came into full maturity with the director's vast 1963 chronicle of pre-
and post-war Japan, The Insect Woman (Nippon-konchuki, or An Account of Japanese
Cinematography by Shinsaku Himeda; Screenplay by Keiji Hasebe and Shohei Imamura;
Produced by Otsuka Kazu and Jiro Tomoda; Directed by Shohei Imamura.
Included in this special Dual Format Edition release alongside The Insect
Woman is Imamura's rarely-seen 1958 feature Nishi-Ginza Station.
NISHI-GINZA STATION is introduced by a singer (Frank Nagai) and is
the story of Oyama Jutaro (Shinichi Yanagisawa), who is married to Riko (Hisano
Yamaoka) and is very much under his bossy wife's thumb.
Riko owns a Pharmacy and Oyama works for her. They have two children, Akane,
who is at primary school and Takeshi who is at nursery and Oyama's friend, Asada
(Ko Nishimura) has arranged for his wife and Riko to take their children away
for two days.
Ten years before in wartime, Oyama was on the South Sea Island of Chari and
met a native girl called Sally with whom he was smitten. He is given to visions
where he imagines himself back on the island with her and this gets him into
very funny and sometimes dangerous situations.
Asada is a womaniser and persuades Oyama to enjoy his two nights of freedom
and Oyama finally ends up asking Yuriko Igarashi (Kyoko Hori) to spend an afternoon
with him and as a result he gets far more than he bargained for!
Nishi-Ginza Station is a clever, amusing and quirky film with terrific
characterisation. Music is by Yoichi Nakagawa; Produced by Ryoji Motegi; Cinematography
is by Kumendobu Fujioka; and Written and Directed by Shohei Imamura.
recognised as one of the most important films of the Japanese New Wave of the
1960s, the Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present The Insect Woman
alongside Imamura's rarely seen 1958 feature Nishi-Ginza Station in a
special Dual Format Edition, released in the UK on 20 February 2012.
The Special Dual format Edition features: Newly-Restored High-Definition Master
of The Insect Woman | New Progressive Transfer of Nishi-Ginza Station,
a 1958 feature by Imamura | Newly-Translated Optional English Subtitles For
Both Films | A Video Conversation About The Insect Woman Between Imamura
and Critic Tadao Sato | A Lavish Booklet Featuring Essays by Film Scholar Tony
Rayns on Both Films | Rare Archival Imagery, etc.
"The Insect Woman is a harsh but fascinating account of a working-class
woman's determination to survive that will appeal to fans of dark Japanese films"
Maggie Woods, MotorBar
"Nishi-Ginza Station is a clever, amusing and quirky film with terrific
characterisation" Maggie Woods, MotorBar