Pigs and Battleships Directed by Shohei Imamura (1961)

Pigs and Battleships is a 1961 Japanese yakuza movie directed by Shohei Imamura. The movie is one of Imamura’s early works and explores the criminal lifestyle in postwar-occupied Japan. The story is set in the port city of Yokosuka, where the US Navy has a base.

The main character, Kinta (played by Hiroyuki Nagato), is a petty criminal and a member of the Himori Yakuza. This young, somewhat naive man struggles to find his place in the world and believes that his gang will help bring him money and respect. Meanwhile, Kinta’s girlfriend, Haruko (played by Jitsuko Yoshimura), despite being in love with Kinta, is pressured by her family to marry an American sailor. The film also explores the status quo between the American navy and the local Japanese community during this period of time.

The title “Pigs and Battleships” refers to the Yakuza’s attempt to capitalise on the pork industry to sell meat to the US Navy, preparing for the Korean War. Kinta oversees the care of the pigs and has been promised a significant bonus for doing so.

How was Pigs and Battleships Received Critically?

Pigs and Battleships was mostly received positively by critics, both in Japan and internationally. The film even won the prestigious Blue Ribbon Award for Best Picture in Japan in 1961.

On the cinematography, Panos Kotzathanasis of Asian Movie Pulse said “Technically, the film is impressive, with Sinsaku Himeda’s cinematography focusing on an amalgam of realism and impression”.

Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called the climax of the movie “hilarious and unique”. He described the plot as complex but with a simple message, that being a warning about cultural imperialism.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times also praised the finale of the movie and described the movie overall as “refreshingly impolite”.

About the Director – Shohei Imamura

Shohei Imamura was a Japanese film director and writer. He is often regarded as one of the most important figures in Japanese cinema. He was born in 1926, in Tokyo, to an upper-middle-class doctor’s family.

In 1958, Imamura made his directorial debut at Nikkatsu studios with the movie Stolen Desire “A tale of a troupe of traveling actors who alternate highlights of kabuki theatre with strip shows”. Many of his films deal with taboo subjects such as prostitution, crime and mental illness. They have been praised for their unflinching honesty and social critique.

Sadly, Shohei Imamura passed away on May 30, 2006, in Tokyo, Japan, due to liver cancer. He was 79 years old at the time of his death. His passing was mourned by many in the film industry and beyond, who recognized him as a giant of Japanese cinema and a visionary artist.