The Insect Woman

"Excellent"

The Insect Woman Review


In name alone, director Sh?hei Imamura's The Insect Woman sounds like the story of a nuclear-mutated lady who wreaks havoc on Japan -- leveling cities and destroying lives. While the film's protagonist Tomé doesn't sprout an exoskeleton and wings, her hardened exterior is no less an emotional mutation caused by the sociological fallout of post-World War II Japan. Born on a cold winter's evening in 1918, Tomé is fated to spend her life supporting her abusive family and laying down to satisfy her father's desires. Although the trouble likely started when her father began sleeping with her at age six, Tomé's sense of family duty trumps her job working for the "fatherland" in 1942, when she is forced by her mother to work and live with their landlord's son in order to work off a family debt. From there on out, Tomé shoulders her family's burdens like a struggling worker ant carrying a morsel that's one size too big. The only sense of control she ever has is in prostitution -- whether it be to the father whom she lets nibble on her nipples, the husband whom she insists on calling "Papa," or professionally.

By the time Tomé is draining a cat's blood to use to fake her virginity for a paying client, Japan is well into its postwar process. With the war skipped over, we only see how the U.S. occupation has infected traditional Japanese culture -- new land ownership regulations and the influence of new religions, to name a few. In a time when Japan was struggling with its own identity, so is Tomé. Though enamored with religion, she finds strength in prostitution -- in being able to manipulate the men who treat her as a simple object. As empowering as it is destructive, Tomé's resolve is no more poignant than when it's contrasted to her daughter Nobuko's seemingly content farm life in the final scenes. Imamura pits the melodramatic scene between Nobuko and her husband resolving a conflict (sealed with a kiss no less) -- Nobuko, the modern, postwar woman in complete control of the situation -- against Tomé struggling on a mountainside, a heavy bag weighing her down, as she carries out an errand for her ex-husband.

Sweeping through the generations, Imamura doesn't stoop to conventions in establishing time or even place. Like other Japanese directors of the 1960s, including Seijun Suzuki and Hiroshi Teshigahara, Imamura edits unsympathetically -- skipping two, three, or even five years at a time. While he might help us along by giving a caption of the season and year, either before or after the scene, it's still jarring. For example, Tomé goes from being born to six years-old in a single cut. But this technique pushes the narrative to the background and allows us to concentrate on the character. We're not concerned with what is happening, but with how Tomé deals with the situation and what that will mean in subsequent scenes. For instance her relationship with her father evolves because, as a child, she asked her father if they were married because they slept together. At that moment, she takes on a wife's responsibility, sexually at first and then monetarily. Combined with freeze frames and impromptu voiceovers, Imamura's "new wave" style elevates as it complicates. He takes a difficult story and makes it less approachable, but rewarding for those who let the film unravel in its own way. While the postwar politics may fade away, Tomé's failed successes continue to impress and elude us more than 45 years later.

Aka Nippon konchuki.



The Insect Woman

Facts and Figures

Genre: Horror/Suspense

Run time: 123 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 30th June 1964

Distributed by: Criterion Collection

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Sh?hei Imamura

Producer: Sh?hei Imamura

Also starring:

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