The Insect Woman

Shohei Imamura's darkly elegant 1963 film about a rural Japanese woman drawn into a life of prostitution compares the lead character to an insect for her persistence in the face of adversity—it even begins with an insect climbing a hill. At the same time Imamura presents the social forces that shape his characters' actions: the woman?s difficult family life (including an incestuous relationship with a stepfather) and the economic hardships following World War II pull her into the streets but also help elevate her to become a powerful madam. The insect metaphor extends into the film's rhythms: the movements of the woman—and of groups of characters seen in tableaux as they eat or talk—often seem as jittery and reflex-driven as a bug's. But the film is stylistically muddled, many scenes ending in freeze-frames that sometimes comment on the narrative by leaving characters in midstream but other times seem affected. In Japanese with subtitles. 123 min.

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