There are pessimistic worldviews, and then there’s Shohei Imamura’s perspective on humanity: Given a choice, his characters will always pick petty self-interest. Having apprenticed under Yasujiro Ozu, the young Japanese director decided he’d liberate the country’s cinema from quaint tragedies designed like tea ceremonies; one New Wave later, he had accomplished that and more. Imamura’s oft-quoted maxim—“I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure”—is on full display in this trio of early works, released for the first time domestically on DVD and replete with resilient heroines pockmarked by firsthand carnal knowledge.
You can only imagine how his 1961 satire, Pigs and Battleships, slapped viewers in the puss upon its release; postwar Japan had never been rendered as corrosively corrupt. American sailors on shore leave sample the local working girls, while small-time yakuza run a scam on selling pork. By the amped-up climax, when a porcine stampede is unleashed into a gunfight, you can barely tell the animals from their human counterparts. The Insect Woman (1963) travels further down the evolutionary scale, instantly equating its prostitute heroine (Sachiko Hidari) with a scurrying bug, while the underrated Intentions of Murder (1965) puts a bovine maid (Masumi Harukawa) through the melodramatic ringer. (That Imamura’s leads persevere, as opposed to J-cinema’s usual self-sacrificing females, is key.) Criterion’s supplements range from the two politest TV interviews ever conducted to an episode of Cinastes de notre temps featuring Imamura; the only complaint about scholar Tony Rayns’s incomparable breakdowns of each film is that they aren’t longer.—David Fear