Imai Tadashi (今井正)

Tadashi IMAI (January 8, 1912 - November 22, 1991) was a film director in Japan during the Showa period. Having mainly created social films, he was a great filmmaker representing leftist humanism in Japanese cinema after World War II.

Biography and personal profile

Imai was born to a priest in Shibuya, Tokyo. He had devoted himself to Marxism and films since Shiba Junior High School and Mito High School under the old system. In 1935, he dropped out of the University of Tokyo and was hired at the Planning Department of J.O. Studio (present-day Toho Co., Ltd.).

Imai worked as an assistant director for filmmakers such as Kyotaro NAMIKI and Nobuo NAKAGAWA. Kon ICHIKAWA was one of his colleagues at that time. When J.O. Studio and Toho Co., Ltd. merged in 1937, Imai was selected as director in his second year at the company, which was an unusually fast promotion.

The production of his first film, however, was greatly delayed partly due to the draft of some of the actors, and 2 years later, in 1939, it was finally released as Imai's debut film "Numazu Heigakko" (Numazu Military Academy). Although it was simple in style, the film was highly regarded thanks to Imai's solid directing.

During World War II, however, Imai went against his nature and produced numerous propaganda films for the war. The propaganda film "Boro no kesshitai" (Suicide Troops of the Watchtower) that depicted the battle between Japanese armed police and anti-Japanese guerrillas set in Korea in 1943 included action scenes only seen in western films and spotlighted Imai for the first time; ironically, it was a militaristic film that justified colonialism.

After World War II, on the other hand, Imai created educational films about postwar democracy. In 1946, he won the Best Director Award at the first Mainichi Film Awards for his first postwar movie "Minshu no teki" (An Enemy of the People) which portrayed the corruption of the zaibatsu (family-controlled conglomerates) during the war. In contrast, Imai also created films such as "Jinsei tonbo-gaeri" (Life Is like a Somersault), a humane comedy featuring Kenichi ENOMOTO and Takako IRIE.

In 1949, Imai directed the two-part youth film "Aoi Sanmyaku" (The Green Mountains) which, based on Yojiro ISHIZAKA's work, celebrated democracy. Due to the huge success of the theme song with the same title, the film became a big hit and was ranked number 2 in Kinema Junpo (a film magazine). Imai came to be regarded as a first-class director.

Then, in 1950, he depicted the tragedy of lovers separated by the war in "Mata au hi made" (Till We Meet Again), and this time, the film was ranked number 1. Additionally, the scene in the film in which the leading actors Eiji OKADA and Yoshiko KUGA kissed through a glass window attracted wide attention at the time and became one of the most famous scenes in the history of Japanese cinema.

Around that time Imai began to desire more creative freedom in his film making. With the funds earned form the success of "Aoi Sanmyaku," he left Toho to work as a freelance director and produced a series of films that celebrated the arrival of a democratic society.

However, Imai, who had been a leading member of the Toho dispute, was barred from the 5 film studios (the so-called red purge), and worked for a short time as a scrap broker to earn a living. Leftist filmmakers who were fired from the same reason as Imai actively started one independent production company after another. Among them, Imai was the first to start filming again.

Teaming up with Gekidan Zenshinza (theater group), Imai, who started an independent production company called Shinsei Eigasha with Satsuo YAMAMOTO and Fumio KAMEI, released "Dokkoi ikiteiru" (And Yet We Live), depicting the lives of day laborers, in 1951. The film received critical acclaim as one of the finest realist film. In the following year of 1952, he directed "Yamabiko gakko" (The Yamabiko School), a film set in a junior high school in a mountain village.

In 1953, Imai was invited by a tiny, emerging studio at the time called Toei Company, Ltd. to create "Himeyuri no to" (The Tower of Lilies), a film portraying the tragedy of the Battle of Okinawa. Although Imai himself was not satisfied with the quality of it, the film became a big hit and helped Toei lay its foundation.

Afterwards, he moved back to his independent production company and released the following two masterpieces: the omnibus film "Nigorie" (An Inlet of Muddy Water) which, based on Ichiyo HIGUCHI's work, was created with Bungakuza (theater group) and ranked number one in the top ten list; and the humanistic film "Koko ni izumi ari" (Here Is a Fountain) which portrayed the founding period of the Takasaki Citizens Orchestra (the present-day Gunma Symphony Orchestra).

In 1956, Imai released the first Japanese film to criticize the court, "Mahiru no ankoku" (Darkness at Noon), an adaptation of the personal notes of Hiroshi MASAKI, a defense lawyer in the trial of the Yakai case. The film which, based on extensive research, claimed a wrongful conviction case had a huge impact on the society, and it was praised as one of his greatest films during the movement of independent production companies.

Also in Toei, Imai created a series of social films: in 1957, the two movies, "Kome" (The Rice People), his first color film depicting poverty in a farming village set in Kasumigaura, and "Junai monogatari" (The Story of Pure Love), a story of love between a girl suffering from radiation sickness and a delinquent boy, became popular; in 1961, "Arega minato no hi da" (That Is the Port Light), a film depicting through young Korean fishermen in Japan the deteriorated relationship between Japan and Korea caused by the dispute of the Syngman Rhee Line, became a hit.

In "Kiku to Isamu" (Kiku and Isamu), a film including condemnation of racism as a theme, he portrayed the close interaction between the half Black and half Japanese sister and brother and the old woman who took in and raised them. The film became his best-known work. Although he was a member of the Japanese Communist Party, Imai did not press its ideology; instead, he delved into social issues such as war, discrimination and poverty, and beautifully filmed the weak at the mercy of these conditions with compassion. He came to be highly regarded through successive releases of these types of films.

In 1963, Imai won the Grand Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival with a movie depicting the cruelty of feudal society "Bushido zankoku monogatari" (Cruel Tales of Bushido). It took 39 years after his win for a Japanese movie called "Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi" (Spirited Away) directed by Hayao MIYAZAKI to win the Grand Prize at the same festival.

Imai founded a production company called Horupu Eiga and became its president. The company, however, was dissolved in 1971 due to financial problems after the completion of "En toiu onna" (A Woman Named En). Imai was invited to Toho, where he had been employed in the past, and released the anti-war film "Kaigun Tokubetsu Shonenhei" (Special Naval Youth Soldiers) in 1972.

A filmmaker influenced by neorealism in Italian cinema, he was known for strict acting direction and firm commitment to picture quality. For instance, Kenji USHIO, a regular supporting actor in Imai's films, introduces in his memoir a story about the filming of the final scene in "Kome" which took one week to finish because Imai was so concerned about the shape of the sail and position of a ship and even the cloud position.

He was a member of the Japanese Communist Party. Although he was a left-wing filmmaker, Imai created a series of hit films loaded with entertainment features and led Japanese cinema as one of the greatest filmmakers across party lines. In this respect, Imai was ranked with Satsuo YAMAMOTO, who similarly directed fine propaganda films for the war. In his late years, however, he lived a slightly unhappy life, compared with Yamamoto who had been constantly asked by big film studios to direct until his death. Imai is also known for having been denounced by Buraku Liberation League for the second part of the film "Hashi no nai kawa" (River Without a Bridge).

In 1991, he was awarded the fourth Nikkan Sports Film Award and Yujiro Ishihara Award with "Senso to seishun" (War and youth).

[Original Japanese]