R.I.P., Shohei Imamura
Shohei Imamura, possibly my favorite Japanese director, has died at the age of 79. I heartily encourage everyone to watch the 1983 Cannes winner The Ballad of Narayama. Other good ones include The Insect Woman, The Pornographers, The Profound Desire of the Gods, Intentions of Murder, and The Eel. Imamura has a knack for portraying people whose emotions and situations have reduced them to an animalistic single-mindedness. He had an amazingly keen eye for capturing the human condition and the climaxes of his movies can be psychologically devastating.
Fellow Cinemasters Ryan Wu and Matt Prigge have more intelligent things to say about him, though it looks like I've seen more of his movies, which, unfortunately, are for the most part not available on DVD. I was able to catch some of his films at retrospectives in years past (Geez, I really need to get back into the habit of going to those) and find some others on VHS, although it's been a few years since I've seen one of his works. Maybe if you're lucky you can find some of his movies on VHS if you've got a well-stocked video store that hasn't completely liquidated their videotapes. Maybe his death will drum up interest for another retrospective or light a fire under somebody's ass to release his stuff on DVD.
Incidentally, there was a period in the 1990s when I was raiding the good video stores in my area for as many of the classic 1960s Japanese movies as possible. The more traditional post-war humanists like Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu are great, but I preferred the psychological dramas from folks like Imamura and Nagisa Ohshima, the so-called "Japanese New Wave." Other great filmmakers of that generation include Kaneto Shindo (particularly Onibaba) and Hiroshi Teshigahara (particularly Woman in the Dunes).
Jeff Vorndam informs me that a company called Japanese New Wave Cinema recognized this gap and is producing relatively inexpensive DVD-Rs of otherwise unavailable classics. This is totally awesome. They have several titles already on sale and a bunch more coming soon within the next few months.