Shohei Imamura's ribald, darkly comic films about messy human relationships and coarse, indomitable women repelled early European critics who had grown to cherish the graceful, exotic image of Japan typified by Kenji Mizoguchi films. Yet Imamura remains a critically important director, both as one of the seminal Japanese New Wave directors (along with Nagisa Oshima and Masahiro Shinoda) and as a chronicler of a side of Japan rarely seen in Mizoguchi movies or tourist brochures.
Born in 1926, in Tokyo, Imamura attended the elite elementary and middle schools that normally would have aimed him toward a prestigious university degree and a comfortable career in business or government. His love of theater and loathing of bourgeois presumptions, however, steered him away from a conventional lifestyle. When he failed the entrance exam for the agriculture program at the national university in Hokkaido, he enrolled in a technical school to evade the draft. The day the Pacific War ended in 1945, he quit the institution and prepared to enroll in Waseda University's literature faculty. There he wrote plays and appeared on stage with a core group of actors, many of whom would appear in his later films, such as Takeshi Kato, Kazuo Kitamura, and Shoichi Ozawa. While his friends from Waseda entered the world of the theater, Imamura joined Shochiku Ofuna Studio as an assistant director in 1951.