We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.


“The Japan of Shohei Imamura”

Japan is traditional, ritualistic, and decorous. We’ve been told that by its best-known directors, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu. Shohei Imamura, who once worked as the latter’s assistant director, would agree—except for that “decorous” part. Imamura’s Japan is vulgar, greedy, superstitious, and violent, a place where the deprivations of the postwar era simply amplified the corruption that already existed. Like Mizoguchi, he’s especially interested in the role of women, notably prostitutes, but he doesn’t imagine their fates as quietly tragic: There are few quiet moments in Imamura’s films, and tragedy is usually intertwined with boisterous burlesque. This series includes such early films as the director’s 1958 debut, Stolen Desire, a traveling-entertainers tale that has rarely been seen outside Japan (Feb. 15 at 5:45 p.m., National Gallery); as well as better-known works like Vengeance Is Mine, a serial-killer flick voted the best Japanese film of the ’70s in a critics poll (Feb. 22 at 1 p.m., Freer). Among the characteristic works are Pigs and Battleships, a raucous account of Japanese lowlifes attempting to profit off a nearby American naval base (pictured, Feb. 21 at 2 p.m, National Gallery), and The Pornographers, which mixes styles and forms to depict an industry that Boogie Nights fans will barely recognize (Feb. 20 at 7 p.m., Freer). Imamura subsequently explored alien customs beyond Japan’s major cities in films like The Ballad of Narayama, set in a village whose inhabitants are abandoned to die when they get too old to be useful (Feb. 13 at 7 p.m., Freer), and The Profound Desire of the Gods, in which an engineer from Tokyo is accepted as divine on a primitive island in the Ryukyu archipelago (Feb. 14 at 2:30 p.m, National Gallery). At the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th & Constitution Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 737-4215; and the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium, 12th & Jefferson Dr. SW. FREE. (202) 357-3200. (Mark Jenkins)