The Insect Woman (the original title translates to Entomological Chronicles of Japan) is possibly the most ambitious out of Shohei Imamura's B&W films. It's a near-epic historical drama with a satirical undertone, jumpy storytelling and a wide array of characters. It stars Sachiko Hidari, one of the best Japanese actresses of the '60s, in a role of her lifetime, and the rest of the cast is usually compiled out of Imamura's regulars, like Jitsuko Yoshimura, known for Imamura's Pigs and Battleships and Shindo's Onibaba.
Imamura's films, especially this one, Intentions of Murder and The Ballad of Narayama, like to compare the various types of people with respective animals. This movie starts with a beetle trying to climb a mountain of dirt and ends with a shot of the protagonist, Tome, trying to get on the top of a hill. So why exactly does Imamura compare her with insects? Because throughout all her schemes and woes, her moments of being oppressed and being the oppressor in a chaotic society that's hard to adapt to, she never really gets anywhere, or if she does, it's temporary. She is forced to repeat her mistakes over and over again and adapt to the fast-moving world as best as she can. Even her lineage is cyclical; she was born a bastard child, had a bastard child, and then her bastard child got a bastard child.
The movie's plot spans throughout the first half of the 20th century and Tome herself is almost paralleled with Japan itself, as she goes from a simple peasant girl to a crafty businessman. Imamura was fascinated with irrationality, sensuality and passion still alive in traditional Japan, and Tome, like many of his heroines, is a personification of that animalistic lifestyle. Imamura's characters are passionate, sexual, hot- blooded, fickle, adaptable and impulsive, and his the way he portrays women is almost like a counterpoint to Mizoguchi's typical fallen woman who sacrifices herself for whatever she has in life. Imamura's characters will do anything to get ahead, but they still have their basic moral codes and principles to keep them going.
The cinematography is, like in Imamura's other stuff, "messy", as he liked to call it. The stillness, taming and concealment of naturalistic tendencies of his mentor Ozu's films are replaced by stuffed shots of various sources of light, multiple characters on screen at once, and a chaotic exchange of camera techniques imitating the characters' hasty libidos, making the movie look very modern. This is, for example, noticeable in the sect headquarters scenes (more like The In-Sect Woman! Ha!). Another interesting thing about the movie is how ballsy it is concerning the depiction of themes like poverty and incest (more like The Incest Woman! OK, I'll show myself out now...), especially for the time.
This is the epitome of a "good" movie. A straight pace, excellent photography, believable acting, the underlying messages and a dash of modernity all make it a good film by all standards. The only factor by which anyone could really rate it is whether or not the story interested them or not.
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