The Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura, who died in 2006, is probably best known in the US—by me, anyway—for Black Rain, his 1989 film about Hiroshima and its aftermath. This adaptation, in stunning black-and-white, of Masuji Abuse’s novel is gentle and heartbreakingly stoic. I think it was one of the great achievements in world cinema of the ‘80s, though it was understandably a bit of a tough sell as a critical recommendation.
Now the fearless folks at Icarus Films are trying to expand Imamura’s profile here in the west, with their release of his fascinating, atmospheric 1967 work A Man Vanishes (Ningen Johatsu), out this month on DVD. This feature-length investigation into the disappearance of a 30-year-old salesman begins as a documentary probe, but gradually turns into a verité-style mystery, with an ever-shifting take on the vanished man and on his enigmatic fiancé, who accompanies the director.
On various visual or thematic levels, the film may call to mind Citizen Kane, Rashomon, and some of Godard’s work. Yet it’s also a startling original, with Imamura pulling off a cheeky and admirable coup de cinema toward the end.
This Icarus Films edition also includes five short, intriguing Imamura documentaries for television, including 1971’s In Search of the Unreturned Soldiers in Malaysia, another investigation into vanished men—Imamura looks for, finds and interviews Japanese soldiers who blended into communities Singapore and Malaysia after WWII ended. Some of their reasons for giving up their home country are, as is customary in Imamura’s work, unexpected.