Insect Woman/Nishi Ginza Station Review
Born into the Japanese rural peasant life of 1918, Tome, played by the magnetic Hidari Sachiko, is the daughter of a promiscuous woman and a mentally challenged father, although her father may of course be any number of men. The situation she is born into is ugly and vulgar and so is set the tone of her life. She herself gives birth to a daughter, following an unpleasant situation that results in her being offered up to and impregnated by the landlord’s son, and it is only through her own tenacity that this baby survives, ignoring the suggestions of elders that she should terminate it. Moving to the city and leaving her daughter with her father, Tome begins work in a factory and then as a maid, until an unfortunate accident leads to the death of the child she is caring for.
There is a depressing inevitably in her next career move, her almost passive acceptance of it makes it even more so, as Tome begins working at a local brothel. Tome adapts and survives though and raises above the other women, ultimately working as a madam, securing customers for prostitutes and taking a substantial cut in the process. Resilient and resourceful she is a classic Imamuran woman, but the harsh treatment she so often receives, the ugly view of human life and the stark inevitability of the story is evidence that this is also classic Imamura in many other ways.
The sense that all this has happened before and will of course happen again pushes down on the story, a story already crushed from all sides by the claustrophobia of a character trapped in her circumstances. The tight, on location cinematography adds to this oppression, with Imamura often shooting inside with low ceilings and close walls closing in from all sides.
The film deals with issues beyond Tome’s confined life though and it is undoubtedly no coincidence that her life moves from pre-war Japan, skipping quickly through World War II and then onto the post-war period. The repetition common through all of Insect Woman, most notable in a repeated shot from inside a barn, and the sense that nothing is really changing reflects a bleak outlook that was not perhaps an uncommon one in post-war Japan. There is a glimmer of something approaching hope though in the film’s final moments, as Tome injures her foot on a rock only to continue on. As this moment and in a way, the rest of the film suggests, obstacles will constantly be placed in the way but it is through an almost animalistic resilience and will to survive that these can be moved past.
Much like Masters of Cinema’s release of Imamura’s Pigs and Battleships, which included his first feature Stolen Desire, the MoC release of comes complete with Imamura’s second feature, the delightfully whimsical Nishi Ginza Station. Designed as something of a vehicle for lounge singer Frank Nagai, Nishi Ginza Stationis just over 60 minutes and very much a lightweight B picture but a very enjoyable one. Clearly riffing onThe Seven Year Itch, the number of similarities are almost too numerous to list, the film concerns a henpecked husband who runs a pharmacy, has two children and a reasonably stable family life but dreams of escaping to a tropical island and the delights of Sally, a grass skirted native who lives there – cue some pretty unfortunate but entirely of the time attitudes to race.
In a way he gets his fantasy, or at least something close to it, but the film ends on a reconciliation and a re-establishment of conservative family values, albeit with a sense that nothing has really changed. This latter point may be the closest the film gets to the kind material Imamura dealt with in his later career. But casting aside the desire to see the film framed within Imamura’s filmography one finds a rather frothy but entirely enjoyable comedy with just a little bite. Not exactly a revelation, Nishi Ginza Stationis nonetheless a rare treat and a wonderful sweet one after the rather difficult and heady ‘pleasures’ of Insect Woman.