Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Intentions of Murder (Shohei Imamura, 1964)

Shohei Imamura's Intentions of Murder (1964).

In Intentions of Murder, the follow up to The Insect Woman (1963), Shohei Imamura takes another look at a woman struggling to maintain her way of life and at times just to survive. In The Insect Woman the main character was, just like the bug in the opening shot of the film, trying to make her way to the top, to get ahead in order to survive. Sadako in Intentions of Murder is likened to another animal, a mouse running on a treadmill is in the foreground in several scenes of Sadako doing her chores. Unlike Tome's climb from peasant to madam for a group of prostitutes, Sadako's main goal is to preserve her family after she is raped by a burglar who falls in love with her and keeps coming back. Just like The Insect Woman, Intentions of Murder is a film about the strengths and struggles of women on the lower end of society.

As a teenager Sadako is sent from Tokyo to a northern town to work as a maid in the same household as her grandmother once did. Once there she's treated badly by the lady owning the house and even when she has a child with and marries the son in the house, Riichi, Sadako is still not allowed into the family registry.

Years later, living with Riichi and their son Masaru, Sadako is still treated as nothing but a maid by everyone in her family and Masaru is registered as the son of her now mother-in-law. Completely repressed by her husband, controlling their finances down to the cost of an onion, Sadako mindlessly performs her everyday chores, just like the mice run on their treadmill, with her only self initiated activity being some knitting work to get some extra money.

One day a man breaks into the house to steal money but when he sees Sadako he rapes her instead. Sadako fights back but is overpowered and though it is clear that she doesn't want anything to do with the man, there is a flashback to when she was a teenager. She's sitting outside with a silkworm crawling up her thigh but is discovered by her future mother-in-law who scolds her badly. Possibly the rape has awoken something inside Sadako that has been repressed for a long time, something instinctual, the opposite of her current life. Sadako's reaction is to commit suicide, but thinking of her son while standing next to the railroad tracks makes her unable to. Her next reaction is as basic as protecting her young, to eat. From here on Sadako's life becomes more about protecting her family unit and trying to resist the carnal desires she has rediscovered than to simply just exist as before.

When the rapist comes back, claiming he's in love with Sadako and wanting to elope to Tokyo with her, she keeps resisting him. It's first after several meetings, where she has tried to make him stay away by paying him, that she lets her sexual desire take over and has consented sex with him, but as he's still a threat to her way of life with her family, she plans to kill him.

Maybe this is Imamura's way of showing the strength of women this time, Sadako protecting her family at almost any cost, being able to overcome just about anything, be it through denial or dealing with it. It's a world where men are strong on the surface but which is really run by women. Both Sadako's husband and the rapist are weak, sickly men and Riichi is himself having an affair with a co-worker while condemning Sadako on the suspicion of her doing the same.

I feel like I'm on thin ice with this one. Compared to The Insect Woman, Intentions of Murder feels like the more layered film and I'm most certainly not the person to decode them all. It also doesn't help that the fact that Sadako starts to somewhat enjoy the rapes didn't sit well with me and that the film felt overly long. It has many similarities with The Insect Woman in its use of freeze frames and voice over from the main character and the feeling of it being more of a study than a regular film. Once again I felt more like an observer than part of an experience. But in the case of Intentions of Murder, the story takes some turns that just makes it too ludicrous to really take seriously, even though Sadako in a way, comes away with a win in the end.