Imamura Shohei (今村昌平)

Shohei IMAMURA (September 15, 1926-May 30, 2006) was a Japanese director and playwright. He served as the managing director of IMAMURA Production.

He was the fourth son of Hanjiro IMAMURA (a medical practitioner) in Tokyo. He graduated from the Junior High School attached to the Tokyo Higher Normal School (present-day High School attached to Tsukuba University), the First Department of Literature, Waseda University.

His family included his wife, 2 sons and a daughter. His eldest son is Daisuke TENGAN; he was a playwright and film director. His second son is Hirosuke IMAMURA (March 22, 1963 -); he is the managing director of IMAMURA Production.

His films, which satirize human desires, have earned steady popular and critical acclaim. His nickname among his fans was "Imahei" (a fusion of his first and last names). He directed twenty films in his roughly 50-year career as a film director.

Career

In 1951, he graduated from university and began working at Shochiku Ofuna Studios. He secured a position for himself as assitant director by passing an exam so difficult that only 8 out of 2000 applicants managed to pass. He worked as assitant director mainly to Yasujiro OZU, and even managed to be promoted to board member of the Shochiku Ofuna Assistant Directors Department. He was unsatisfied with his salary and work opportunities, however, so in 1954 he quit and began working for Nikkatsu Corporation. Later he would discuss the major difference between Shochiku and Nikkatsu: "At Shochiku I was hampered by endless restrictions, so was very surprised to find that Nikkatsu was not like this at all."

He also wrote screenplays to two famous films, that for director Yuzo KAWASHIMA's 1957 masterpiece "Bakumatsu taiyo den" and that for "Kyupora no aru machi" by Kirio URAYAMA. Imamura is also well known for his close relationship with Frankie SAKAI, Shoichi OZAWA, and Takeshi KATO, friends from his school days. His incident with Kanjuro ARASHI, who could not bear the harsh circumstances of the filming on location for "Kamigami no Fukaki Yokubo" and tried to run away only to be forced by Imamura to return, is also very well known.

He established his reputation as one of Japan's premier directors through such films as the 1961 "Buta no Gunkan", the 1963 "Nippon Konchu ki", and the 1964 "Akai satsui". Yet for a period of several years thereafter no one was willing to support his projects; during these lean years he was forced to live in such poverty he never knew where his next meal was coming from, and he also came down with a gastric ulcer.

In 1979 he staged a brilliant comeback, earning the right to make the film version of Ryuzo SAKI's "Fukushu suru wa ware ni ari" and beating out many rivals in the process. But his next film, the 1981 flop "E ja nai ka" disappointed moviegoers to such a degree that for a time people began to mutter "The era where Imamura had the whole world at his fingertips is sure over." But then in 1983 he released "Narayamabushiko" in a bid to revive his career. His efforts were wildly successful, with "Narayamabushiko" and his 1997 "Unagi" both winning the Grand Prix (today's Palme d' Or) at the Cannes Film Festival, the first time a Japanese director had ever won twice (only five directors, including Francis Ford Coppola, have ever won the top prize twice). He was not in attendance at the Cannes Film Festival when "Narayamabushiko" was entered, commenting that "I did not make this film just for the Cannes Film Festival." He attended the Cannes Film Festival when "Unagi" (Eel) was submitted, but he returned to Japan before the film was shown.

In 1975, he opened the Yokohama Broadcast Film Vocational School (the present-day Nihon Film School) and served as its principal. School graduates include such directors as Takashi MIIKE, Tatsuoki HOSONO, Sugiru KIM, Kiyoshi SASABE, Katsuyuki MOTOHIRO, and Sang Il LEE, as well as screenwriter Wishing CHONG, Akutagawa Prize-winning author Kazushige ABE, entertainer Utchan Nanchan, and actors Hatsunori HASEGAWA and Daisuke RYU.

In 1998, he had a dialogue with Takeshi KITANO that is included in the Shincho supplement "Komanechi!"

At 3:49 PM on May 30, 2006, he died at a hospital in Shibuya in Tokyo, of a metastatic liver tumor
He died at the age of 79. His last film was a short entitled "110901/September 11."

At his funeral, Martin SCORSESE, who has acknowledge he was heavily influenced by Imamura, offered a condolence message stating that "He was my teacher."

Whenever one discusses Shohei IMAMURA it is impossible to ignore the vital period in which he worked as part of a trio with Yuzo KAWASHIMA and Kirio URAYAMA.

After Imamura left Shochiku and began working at Nikkatsu, Kawashima also left Shochiku to work at Nikkatsu, and Urayama--who had failed Shochiku's exam for directors--managed to enter Nikkatsu through the good offices of film director Seijun SUZUKI. Brought together in this way, it was these three that went on to create Nikkatsu's postwar masterpieces.

It was in Kawashima's "Suzaki paradaisu, aka shingo" that the three established their directorial style, which centered on the vitality of ordinary people, the "rock-bottom of society, who did not see any benefits from the postwar economic boom."

Kawashima clashed with Nikkatsu over the budget allocation for "Bakamatsu taiyo den", and ended up leaving Nikkatsu over the dispute. Imamura, however, remained at Nikkatsu, going on to make several more films including "Nippon konchu ki" and "Akai satsui." Imamura always showed an awareness of Kawashima's work, establishing his own style based on the Tohoku region's 'underlying psychology' (which in Imamura's own words was "heavy comedy"). Imamura subsequently adapted this idea of underlying psychology to create a style with a documentary-like touch. The main characters of his films are invariably ordinary people; never once did he work on a film that dealt with the origins or history of a famous person.

In the memorial record he created about and in memory of his mentor, Yuzo KAWASHIMA, entitled "Sayonara dake ga jinsei da: Eiga kantoku Kawashima Yuzo no shogai" (Life is only a chorus of goodbyes: the life of director Yuzo KAWASHIMA), he chronicled Kawashima's life using a documentary style; in it, he recounted how Kawashima kept working right on to the end, filming on location without breathing a single word to anyone that he was suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. Since publication, Kawashima fans have become a major force among cinephiles, and it could well be said that Imamura's book was their impetus. Imamura was a master craftsman with a global outlook, and many of his films, including "Unagi," feature scenes involving female nudity. Moreover, the scene in his film "E ja nai ka" where an actress urinates generated considerable controversy, as it was against the regulations of the Film Ethical Review Board.

Awards

In 1963, he won the Blue Ribbon Prize for best director and best screenplay for his film "Nippon konchu ki" (which brought in 330 million yen, making it Japan's sixth-highest grossing film in 1963).

In 1979, he won three directorial prizes, the Blue Ribbon Prize, the Japan Academy Prize, and the Kinema Junpo Prize for his film "Fukushu suru wa ware ni ari."

In 1989 he again won three directorial prizes, the Japan Academy Prize, the Kinema Junpo Prize, and the Nikkan Sports Film Prize, for his film "Kuroi ame" (Black Rain).

In 1997, he won directorial prizes from the Japan Academy and the Mainichi Film Contest for his film "Unagi."

After he passed away, he was awarded the Mainichi Film Contest Prize and the French 'Order of Arts and Letters'.

Books

Film is a crazy journey (Nikkei Inc., 2004)ISBN 4-532-16471-0

Of all the books he wrote, the most famous is "Sayonara dake ga jinsei da: Eiga kantoku Kawashima Yuzo no shogai" ("Life is only a chorus of goodbyes: the life of director Yuzo KAWASHIMA," published by Nobel Shobo in 1968).