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REVIEW – Pigs & Battleships (1961)

August 4, 2011

Videovista have my review of Shohei Imamura’s fifth film Pigs & Battleships.

Released as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series, Pigs & Battleships comes with Imamura’s first film Stolden Desire as an added extra.  As I said in my review of the earlier film, despite the fact that Pigs & Battleships is the ‘main feature’ on the disc, Stolen Desire is probably a better film to start with at it serves as a lovely introduction to some of Imamura’s concerns and techniques.  In particular, both films share a similarly frantic and grubby atmosphere of desperate people who are trapped between idealism and realism and are forever making the wrong decisions:

Pigs & Battleships is a film of moments and atmospheres rather than plots and characters. Its characters, although complex and beautifully acted, are seldom allowed much room to breathe in a film that is positively teeming with plot. In fact, this film has so much plot that it can, at times, be difficult to follow. Better then to take a step back from faces and events and focus instead on Imamura’s depiction of Japanese society as a vast ocean that teems with life but whose ceaseless churn can kill in a second. Aside from its beautifully frenzied atmosphere, Pigs & Battleships is littered with lovely cinematic moments and camera movements so beautiful that they’ll melt your face.

On a side note: it has come to my attention that Eureka have got into something of a barney with the book publisher Phaidon over Phaidon’s series of books about directors entitled ‘The Masters of Cinema’. As Eureka point out on their website, their DVD and Blu-ray label pre-dates Phaidon’s book series by a number of years and given how well-known and well-respected Eureka’s MOC label is among European cinephiles, Phaidon’s decision to use the same name for their series of books can only cause confusion.  Eureka have said that they’d be willing to license the name but Phaidon are insisting that the names do not cause confusion. Which is bollocks obviously. If I walked into a bookshop and saw a series of books about famous directors entitled ‘The Criterion Collection’ I would naturally think that it was affiliated with the American DVD label.

What makes this sordid story even more bizarre is the fact that Phaidon are currently the owners of the venerable French film magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema and their Masters of Cinema books come with Cahiers branding on them.  While Cahiers has not been a decent magazine for a number of years now, the name Cahiers du Cinema still means something.  In fact, it means quite a bit more to European cinephilia than Masters of Cinema so why are Phaidon trading on someone else’s brand when they have an even more valuable brand of their own that they could trade on? A series of books released under the Cahiers du Cinema brand would be a great idea but instead, Phaidon have decided to borrow someone else’s name.  Unfortunate.

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