Shohei Imamura was a highly acclaimed Japanese filmmaker known for his realistic and often provocative portrayals of Japanese society.

He directed over 20 films throughout his career, and his work is highly regarded both in Japan and internationally.

Here are some of the best Shohei Imamura films:

“The Ballad of Narayama” (1983) – This film tells the story of an elderly woman who is sent to a mountain to die in accordance with a rural Japanese tradition.

It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and is widely regarded as one of Imamura’s greatest works.

“Vengeance Is Mine” (1979) – This film is based on the true story of a notorious serial killer in Japan. Imamura’s direction, combined with a powerful performance by lead actor Ken Ogata, makes this a deeply unsettling and unforgettable film.

“Intentions of Murder” (1964) – This film explores the psychological trauma of a woman who is raped and the impact it has on her and those around her.

It is a powerful and thought-provoking film that is considered a masterpiece of Japanese cinema.

“The Insect Woman” (1963) – This film is a stark portrayal of the struggle of a woman born into poverty in rural Japan, who uses her sexuality to climb the social ladder. It is a deeply feminist work that challenges traditional gender roles and expectations.

“Black Rain” (1989) – This film tells the story of a woman who survives the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the psychological impact it has on her and her family.

It’s a moving and haunting film that deals with the aftermath of one of the most traumatic events in human history.

Best Shohei Imamura Films

Shohei Imamura’s films are known for their raw, unflinching portrayal of the human condition and his exploration of difficult and often taboo subjects.

His films continue to be relevant and thought-provoking today, and his legacy as one of the great filmmakers of Japanese cinema remains secure.

1. Vengeance Is Mine (1979)      

“Vengeance Is Mine” is a 1979 Japanese film directed by Shohei Imamura, and it is not directed by Kon Ichikawa.

The film is based on a true story and follows a notorious serial killer named Iwao Enokizu, who committed a series of murders in Japan in the 1960s.


The film explores Enokizu’s troubled past and psychological state, as well as the social and cultural factors that may have contributed to his crimes.

It also examines the impact of Enokizu’s actions on his family and the people around him, as well as the ways in which society responds to violent crimes.

“Vengeance Is Mine” is known for its dark and gritty portrayal of its subject matter and its unflinching depiction of violence and sexuality. It also features strong performances from its cast, particularly Ken Ogata as Enokizu.

The film has been praised for its realistic and nuanced portrayal of a serial killer, as well as for its exploration of the social and cultural factors that may lead to violent behavior.

It has also been noted for its innovative use of flashbacks and its exploration of the blurred lines between reality and memory.

Overall, “Vengeance Is Mine” is a powerful and thought-provoking film that offers a disturbing but insightful look at the nature of violence and its impact on individuals and society.

Vengeance Is Mine (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Ken Ogata, Rentar Mikuni, Chocho Miyako (Actors)
  • Shohei Imamura (Director) - Masaru Baba (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

2. The Ballad of Narayama (1983)            

The Ballad of Narayama (1983) is a film directed by Nagisa Oshima that explores the customs and traditions of a remote mountain village in 19th century Japan.

The film is based on the 1956 novel “Narayama bushiko” by Shichiro Fukazawa and follows the story of an elderly woman, Orin, who lives in the village of Narayama.

According to the village tradition, when a person reaches the age of 70, they must be carried to the top of the mountain and left to die to avoid being a burden on the rest of the village.

The film explores themes of family, duty, and mortality, and uses a variety of visual and narrative techniques to create a haunting and ethereal atmosphere.

Oshima employs long takes and static camera shots to emphasize the slow pace of life in the village and the cyclical nature of the passing of time.

The Ballad of Narayama was highly acclaimed upon its release, winning the Palme d’Or at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.


The film is regarded as a masterful meditation on the nature of life and death, and a commentary on the value of tradition and community in the face of individualism and modernization.

E1 ENTERTAINMENT Ballad of Narayama, The
  • In a small village in a remote valley, everyone who reaches the age of 70 is banished to the top of...
  • Ken Ogata, Sumiko Sakamoto, Tonpei Hidari (Actors)
  • Shohei Imamura (Director) - Shichir� Fukazawa (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

3. The Eel (1997)

“The Eel” is a 1997 Japanese film directed by Nagisa Oshima. The film tells the story of a man named Takuro Yamashita, who is released from prison after serving a long sentence for murdering his wife.

He moves to a small coastal town where he opens a barbershop and befriends a woman named Keiko. He also acquires a pet eel, which he cares for and talks to as if it were a person.

The film explores themes of redemption, forgiveness, and the power of human connection. The relationship between Takuro and Keiko is central to the film, as they both struggle to come to terms with their pasts and find a way to move forward.

The eel, which serves as a kind of symbolic presence in the film, represents Takuro’s desire for redemption and his belief in the possibility of change.

Visually, the film is understated and quiet, with Oshima’s use of muted colors and minimalist camera work creating a sense of stillness and contemplation.

The film’s score, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, is haunting and evocative, adding to the film’s sense of melancholy and introspection.

“The Eel” won the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, and is widely regarded as one of Oshima’s finest films. It is a deeply moving work of cinema that explores the human condition with sensitivity and nuance.


The Eel [DVD] [1997]
  • English (Subtitle)

4. The Pornographers (1966)      

“The Pornographers” is a Japanese film directed by Shohei Imamura and released in 1966. The film is a satirical and critical exploration of the Japanese pornography industry, focusing on a small group of people who make and distribute pornographic films.

The story follows Ogata, a widowed middle-aged man who runs a small factory that produces erotic films.

Ogata is a complex character, at once a sympathetic victim of economic circumstance and a morally compromised figure who exploits the women who appear in his films.

As the story unfolds, we see the various ways in which the people involved in the porn industry are shaped by and impact the society around them.

“The Pornographers” is known for its darkly humorous and incisive portrayal of the Japanese porn industry, which was a controversial and taboo topic at the time of the film’s release.

The film’s exploration of the intersections of sex, power, and capitalism is still relevant today, and it continues to be a thought-provoking and challenging work of art.

In addition to its critical content, “The Pornographers” is also notable for its innovative visual style and storytelling techniques.

Imamura uses a documentary-style approach, blending fiction and reality to create a vivid and compelling portrait of his characters and their world.

The film’s bold and experimental style has made it a landmark of Japanese cinema and a significant influence on subsequent generations of filmmakers.

The Pornographers (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Shoichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Masaomi Kondo (Actors)
  • Shohei Imamura (Director) - Akiyuki Nosaka (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

5. A Man Vanishes (1967)            

“A Man Vanishes” is a 1967 documentary film directed by Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura. The film follows the mysterious disappearance of a businessman named Tadashi Oshima, who goes missing in Tokyo in 1966.

Imamura investigates the case, interviewing Oshima’s friends, family, and colleagues in an attempt to uncover the truth about his disappearance.

However, as the film progresses, Imamura begins to question the nature of truth and reality, as he uncovers conflicting stories and perspectives about Oshima’s life and disappearance.

The film becomes a meditation on the role of memory, perception, and subjectivity in the construction of identity and narrative.

“A Man Vanishes” is considered a landmark work of documentary cinema, due to its innovative and unconventional approach to the form.

Imamura uses reenactments, interviews, and footage of his own filmmaking process to create a complex and layered portrait of the case, and to explore broader themes related to Japanese society and culture.

The film has been praised for its bold and experimental approach, which challenges traditional notions of documentary objectivity and pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved through the medium of cinema.

A Man Vanishes (1967) (Masters of Cinema) [DVD]
  • A Man Vanishes ( Ningen jôhatsu )
  • A Man Vanishes
  • Ningen jôhatsu
  • Shohei Imamura (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)

6. Black Rain (1989)

“Black Rain” is a Japanese film directed by Shohei Imamura and released in 1989. The film is based on a novel by Masuji Ibuse and tells the story of a family living in Hiroshima who are exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb that was dropped on the city in 1945.

The film focuses on the character of Yasuko (played by Yoshiko Tanaka), a young woman who survives the bombing but is haunted by the experience for the rest of her life.

She and her family struggle to come to terms with the effects of radiation exposure, which leads to health problems and social stigma.

The film is a powerful exploration of the psychological and physical effects of the atomic bomb, and its impact on the lives of ordinary Japanese citizens.

It is also a commentary on the post-war society in Japan, and the lasting effects of the war on the country and its people.

“Black Rain” was highly acclaimed upon its release and won several awards, including the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

It is widely regarded as one of Shohei Imamura’s finest films, and a powerful and moving testament to the enduring legacy of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Black Rain
  • Condition: New
  • Format: DVD
  • Closed-captioned; Color; DVD; Letterboxed; Widescreen; NTSC
  • Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura (Actors)
  • Ridley Scott (Director) - Craig Bolotin (Writer)

7. Pigs and Battleships (1961)    

“Pigs and Battleships” is a 1961 Japanese film directed by Shohei Imamura, and it is not directed by Kon Ichikawa.

The film is set in post-World War II Japan and follows the lives of a group of low-level gangsters who become involved in the black market trade of pigs, which are used to feed American soldiers stationed in Japan.

The film explores the lives of these gangsters and their families, as well as the larger societal changes taking place in Japan at the time.

It also examines the relationships between the gangsters and the American military personnel, as well as the tensions and conflicts that arise between them.

“Pigs and Battleships” is known for its gritty and realistic portrayal of post-war Japan and its exploration of the social and economic pressures that led many Japanese to engage in black market activities.

It also features strong performances from its cast, particularly Hiroyuki Nagato as Kinta, the film’s protagonist.

The film has been praised for its complex and nuanced depiction of its characters and their struggles, as well as for its use of humor and satire to highlight the absurdities of the situation.

It is also noted for its innovative use of location shooting and its frank depiction of sex and violence. Overall, “Pigs and Battleships” is a powerful and insightful film that offers a unique perspective on a critical period in Japanese history.

  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Imamura, Shohei (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

8. Intentions of Murder (1964)  

ntentions of Murder (1964) is a film directed by Nagisa Oshima that explores themes of gender, power, and violence in post-World War II Japan.

The film tells the story of a married woman, Sadako, who is raped by a burglar in her home while her husband is away on business. Despite the trauma of the assault, Sadako struggles to be taken seriously by the police and her community, who blame her for the attack.

The film is known for its use of non-linear narrative, fragmented storytelling, and surreal imagery to create a dreamlike and disorienting atmosphere.

Oshima uses these techniques to emphasize the psychological effects of trauma and the ways in which societal attitudes and power structures can perpetuate violence and victim blaming.

Intentions of Murder was highly controversial upon its release due to its depiction of sexual violence and its critique of Japanese society.

However, it is now recognized as a powerful and important work in the Japanese New Wave movement and a seminal film in Oshima’s career.

The film was also significant for its portrayal of women as complex and multifaceted characters with agency and the ability to resist patriarchal structures.

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9. The Insect Woman (1963)      

“The Insect Woman” is a 1963 Japanese film directed by Nagisa Oshima. The film tells the story of a woman named Tome Matsuki, who is born into poverty and works her way up the social ladder through a series of sexual relationships with wealthy men.

The film is a scathing critique of Japanese society and its class system, as well as an exploration of the ways in which gender and sexuality intersect with power and social status.

Tome’s story is presented in a non-linear fashion, with the film jumping back and forth in time to explore the various stages of her life and the relationships she has with the men around her.

Visually, the film is highly stylized, with Oshima’s use of bold colors and striking camera angles creating a sense of visual dynamism.

The film’s score, composed by Toshiro Mayuzumi, is also highly distinctive, with a mix of traditional Japanese instruments and more experimental electronic sounds.

“The Insect Woman” was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and is now regarded as a classic of Japanese cinema.

It is a powerful and thought-provoking film that explores the intersection of class, gender, and sexuality in a way that is both daring and innovative.

Insect Woman (1963) [VHS]
  • Sachiko Hidari (Actor)
  • Shohei Imamura (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

3 Characteristics of Shohei Imamura Films

Shohei Imamura was a renowned Japanese filmmaker who is known for his uncompromising and distinctive style. Here are three characteristics that are commonly found in his films:

Focus on Marginalized Characters and Social Issues: Imamura’s films often focus on marginalized characters, such as sex workers, criminals, and rural farmers.

He is known for his unflinching portrayal of the hardships and injustices faced by these groups, as well as his critical commentary on social issues such as poverty, class divides, and cultural traditions.

Imamura’s films are often marked by a deep sense of compassion for his characters, even as he exposes the harsh realities of their lives.

Documentary-Style Realism: Imamura’s films are characterized by a documentary-style approach, often blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

He uses non-professional actors and real-life locations to create a sense of realism and authenticity. His films often feature gritty and unglamorous visuals, immersing the viewer in the everyday realities of his characters’ lives.

This style gives his films a sense of urgency and immediacy, making them compelling and emotionally resonant.

Overall, Shohei Imamura’s films are characterized by their social commentary, documentary-style realism, and exploration of human desire and complexity.

His work is marked by a deep sense of compassion for marginalized characters, as well as a critical eye for social issues and cultural traditions.

Imamura’s films continue to be celebrated for their unique and uncompromising vision, making him one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of Japanese cinema.

3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Shohei Imamura Films

Shohei Imamura was a highly influential and acclaimed Japanese filmmaker, known for his unconventional and provocative approach to cinema. Here are three reasons why you should watch his films:

Innovative storytelling: Imamura was known for his innovative and unconventional approach to storytelling, which challenged traditional narrative structures and pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved through cinema.

He often incorporated documentary elements and non-linear storytelling techniques into his films, creating complex and layered narratives that explore social and cultural issues in Japan.

Social commentary: Imamura’s films are known for their unflinching and critical portrayal of Japanese society and culture.

He often explored themes related to poverty, gender inequality, and the struggle for individual identity within a conformist society.

His films offer a unique perspective on Japanese society and culture, and provide insight into the country’s history and contemporary issues.

Diverse body of work: Imamura’s filmography spans several decades and genres, from gritty social realist dramas to surreal and experimental works.

His films offer a diverse and multifaceted view of Japanese cinema, and showcase the breadth and depth of his creative vision.

Whether you are interested in traditional Japanese aesthetics or avant-garde cinema, there is likely a Shohei Imamura film that will appeal to your interests.

Best Shohei Imamura Films – Wrapping Up

In conclusion, Shohei Imamura was a legendary Japanese filmmaker who directed a number of remarkable films throughout his career.

He is widely regarded as one of the most important directors in the history of Japanese cinema, and his work continues to be studied and celebrated by filmmakers and critics around the world.

Some of the most notable films in Imamura’s filmography include “The Ballad of Narayama”, “Vengeance Is Mine”, “Intentions of Murder”, “The Insect Woman”, and “Black Rain”. These films are known for their unflinching portrayal of difficult subject matter, including the effects of war, social inequality, and the darker aspects of human nature.

Imamura’s films often challenged traditional conventions and expectations, and his exploration of complex and often taboo subject matter helped to push Japanese cinema in new and exciting directions.

His work has had a lasting impact on the film industry, and his legacy as one of the great filmmakers of the 20th century remains secure.