In Search of the Unreturned Soldiers

95 minutes 2013

The documentaries Shohei Imamura made for Japanese TV in the early 1970s are among this revolutionary director’s most confrontational works; nearly all of them show the filmmaker tracking down people directly involved with World War II atrocities and forcing them to describe their experiences on camera. In these two Imamura talks to deserters from the Imperial Army who never returned to Japan, motivated either by shame for their actions in the war or by contempt for the Japanese government’s surrender. In Search of the Unreturned Soldiers in Malaysia (1970, 50 min.) culminates on a note of unexpected delicacy, as Imamura meets with a long-lost soldier now living as a religious ascetic in a remote village. By contrast In Search of the Unreturned Soldiers in Thailand (1971, 45 min.) climaxes with an unsettling sequence in which Imamura gets three former deserters drunk enough to speak casually about their war crimes.

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