Why Not? (1981)

Directed by Shohei Imamura
Written by Shohei Imamura, Ken Miyamoto
Produced by Shohei Imamura, Shoichi Ozawa, Shigemi Sugisaki, Jiro Tomoda
Starring Kaori Momoi, Shigeru Izumiya, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Masao Kusakari, Mitsuko Baisho, Ken Ogata, Kibaji Tankobo, Shohei Hino, Jiro Yabuki, Yuko Tanaka, Taiji Tonoyama, Shoichi Ozawa, Ako, Junzaburo Ban, Shino Ikenami, Etsuko Ikuta, Hiroshi Inuzuka, Choichiro Kawarasaki, Kazuo Kitamura, Nenji Kobayashi, Yasuaki Kurata, Norihei Miki, Sansho Shinsui, Kazuko Shirakawa, Minori Terada

Society’s roiled and culture concordantly flares about the crumbling shogunate during the Edo period’s tumultuous penultimate year, when adventurous enemies, friends, and lovers in Ryogoku and Yokohama strive to survive and succeed. Upon his repair from the United States as a citizen of that republic, a circumstantial trader, translator, farmer, and recidivist (Izumiya) is unhappily reunited with his boozing, bed-hopping wife (Momoi), a showgirl and sometime strumpet; their professions, perpetrations, and prurience bring them into acquaintance with her quondam madam (Baisho), one tall, taciturn, amphibious Ryukyuan (Kusakari) and a disgraced ronin (Ogata) who’ve both mortal scores to settle, and thieves and rioters (Hino, Tankobo, Yabuki) in the employ of a despicable merchant (Tsuyuguchi) who manipulates them all in east Ryogoku, as does his elderly, conniving counterpart (Tonoyama) in the city’s west, on behalf of both the incompetent shogunate and perfidious clans of samurai eager for a putsch. Tributed to his mentor and collaborator Yuzo Kawashima, Imamura deftly juggled six plots(!) relating malfeasance at its most entrenched, gains and reverberations from corruption, condign revenge, the perpetuation of meretricious trade, and the endurance of love, scored as quirkily as ever by Shinichiro Ikebe. His scope here is greater than usual, particularly in smooth, striking master and tracking shots on land and water. Spunky Momoi and Izumiya, newcomer Tanaka, and toweringly lanky model Kusakari interacted well with the director’s regulars (co-producer Ozawa, Tsuyuguchi, Baisho, Kitamura, Ogata, et al.), and all of these sensitive players excel in criminal scenes, horizontal rutting, faux freakshows, and flagrant extravaganzas, such as a chaotic, climactic, celebratory parade that springs from spiritual fervor in Ryogoku’s east, then proceeds by bridge and boat across the Sumida River to its west, whipped into a riot to fatal penalty. His typically objective presentation of colorfully characterized (though uncaricatured) peasants, whores, artisans, entertainers, and outsiders can’t stay Imamura’s syntheses and contrasts of ribald and absurdist hilarity with devastating tragedy in the historical context of a climacteric during which unfortunates could expect meager mercy or prosperity. From this, he and Miyamoto contrived a festivous, eleutheromaniacal exultation, hemmed between the moribundity of an isolationist military autocracy, and the brutal, ulterior vim of a renascent empire.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate or Zegen.

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