22 August 2010 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: Hogs and Warships
Shohei Imamura films continue to be showcased in the Japanese Film Festival, and Hogs and Warships is a tale of pimps, gangsters and prostitutes put together in a melting pot that is the streets of Yokosuka, a port town where US Navy personnel spend their R&R in postwar Japan. And I suppose you know that means painting the town red with drink and women, with the Japanese folk all eager to make a quick buck through the provision of services.
I think there is no love shown here in painting, through the course of the film, how the pigs can refer to both the American soldiers - where the rowdy rank and file chasing skirts to bed, and the officers portrayed as more than willing to keep mistresses - and the Japanese men themselves who are pimping their town/city/country, where everyone's thinking of making good money in the shortest possible time. As an outcome, there's a whole load of black comedy that Imamura crafts in the film, where gangsters are constantly scheming and looking to outwit rivals, and the women well, relegated to either the backlanes waiting for pimps to bring in business, or pandering to the notion of being a kept woman for a better life overseas.
Hogs and Warships, or Pigs and Battleships, begins with showing the bleak picture of the impoverished in Yokosuka out to make a living through all means possible, despite the clamp down on bars and establishments by the Shore Patrol, that seems more symbolic and hence hypocritical in nature even, where a prostitute lashes out at a SP personnel for visiting her brothel just before the closure. After a quick introduction we're introduced to the protagonists in the lovebird couple Kinta (Hiroyuki Nagato) and Haruko (Jitsuko Yoshimura, who followed up this film with Onibaba, also featured in last year's JFF), one on each side of the sexes to touch on their respective strategies to better their lives.
Kinta's the quintessential easy-going, happy go lucky and unlikely gangster, where he thinks the money is with running with the gangsters, although he soon finds out his recruitment besides helping to operate the black market hog business, is to become the fall guy for practically everything that goes wrong for the gang, from the comical disposal of a corpse, to taking the rap for the gangster chief should it come down to that. With that comes the promise of riches beyond his imagination, with which he can pursue his dream of becoming a band manager.
Haruko is that steely lady that we've come accustomed to with Imamura's characterization of the fairer sex. Like the other romantic leading ladies in films like A Flame at the Pier and Good for Nothing, they possess this inexplicable hope that they are able to change their man through love. Here, Haruko persuades quite unsuccessfully for Kinta to give up his life of crime, wanting him to work in a factory, which to Kinta is a dead end job. The story of Haruko serves to be more interesting than the rest, especially through Jitsuko Yoshimura's performance where in the finale you can feel her resolve jumping right out of the screen in her determination to create a new life away from the old one where mistakes have been made and old hopes shattered.
It's the life and times of the working class during the era, and comes with a scene that's much talked about when all hell breaks loose on the streets of Yokosuka, where everything, including hundreds of pigs, comes together for that literal big bang finale complete with action, comedy and that tinge of poignancy even. With cinematography at its inventive best (the continuous spin from an eye in the sky angle when Haruko finds herself trapped in trouble was totally unexpected and made quite an impact on the passage of time), I found myself more interested with how the pachinko machine was manually operated at the backend by a number of hostesses working to feed those ball bearings into the player's machines!