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Film / Pigs and Battleships

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Pigs and Battleships is a 1961 film by Shohei Imamura.

It is about the seamy underbelly of life in Japan. 16 years after Japan's defeat in World War II and nine years after the end of the formal American occupation, the seaport of Yokosuka remains an important American naval base. (It still is today.) Directly adjoining the naval base is a red light district that caters to American sailors, specifically by getting them drunk and guiding them to filthy brothels for sex with local prostitutes. The American presence in the town fuels local criminal activity, both in the sex trade and in the illegal black market sale of American military goods.

The protagonists are a young man named Kinta and his girlfriend Haruko. Kinta is the most junior member of the Himori yakuza gang. The Himori gang is a low-level unit specializing in penny-ante activities like extorting local shopkeepers and running the aforementioned filthy brothels. They also are branching into black market food, running a pig farm with pigs that they feed with the garbage and scraps from the American naval base. Haruko works her family's grungy little bar, but her sleazy mother is putting pressure on her to become the kept woman of an American businessman named Gordon.

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Things start getting serious when Kinta has to help dispose of the body of a rival that gang leader Himori killed. The gang pressures Kinta to be the fall guy for the murder if necessary, and Kinta reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile Haruko, who is very unenthusiastic about becoming an American's mistress and wants a better life, pressures Kinta to go straight and get a real job.


Tropes:

  • As You Know: Kinta makes sure to refer to Sakiyama the Japanese-American as "that Japanese-American, Sakiyama." Sakiyama is the middleman hooking up the Himori gang with scraps to feed the pigs.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Averted. Not only are all the gangsters bumbling morons, they all die undignified deaths. A gutshot Kinta crawls into a women's bathroom and dies with his head in the toilet, and the rest of the gang are trampled to death by pigs.
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  • Dies Wide Open: The corpse of Mr. Harukoma, the rival gangster that Himori killed. Kinta, who didn't know what was going on, is shocked to see his dead staring face.
  • Driven to Suicide: Yajima, a man with three kids who loses all his money to the Himori gang, kills himself.
  • Eagleland: Flavor 2 all the way, as Americans are portrayed as drunken rapists bent on the economic and sexual exploitation of Japan. The only mitigating factor is that all the Japanese characters in the movie except for Haruko are just as bad.
  • Faux Fluency: Sakiyama is supposed to be a Japanese-American, and eventually he leaves for Hawaii, but he speaks English with a very thick Japanese accent.
  • Fed to Pigs: Ohachi didn't feel like burying Harukoma so he fed his corpse to the pigs. The rest of the gang doesn't find this out until they're eating a pig and one of them discovers a human tooth.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Tetsuji the gangster's brother Kikuo works for a living. He is scornful of his older brother for wasting his life and, when Tetsuji thinks he is dying, Kikuo sarcastically notes than an old or weak gangster is useless. Kikuo is the one who finds Haruko a job.
  • Gratuitous English: Sakiyama, the Japanese-American, muses bitterly in English about how he came to Japan hoping to teach people about democracy and Thomas Jefferson and such but found that they were only interested in American gangsters and beat music.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Chen the Chinese gangster is sitting at the bar with Hiromi. Chen tells the Chinese bartender in Chinese that Hiromi is "a stupid pig who doesn't know anything." The bartender agrees in Chinese and then offers to kill Hiromi, all right in front of Hiromi's face.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: The gang members are pretty freaked out when they discover the pig they are eating recently itself dined on a human body.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition:
    • Haruko and her sister have a nasty argument in which the sister pressures Haruko to sell herself to Mr. Gordon while Haruko calls the sister a whore for doing the same with Sakiyama. This is followed by their little brother reciting from his textbook: "Japan is a beautiful country with a unique culture, able to incorporate the finer practices and customs of other countries."
    • Tetsuji, thinking he will soon die of cancer, almost throws himself in front of a train but flinches. The train then passes to reveal a sign that says "Nissan Life Insurance: Live Life with a Smile."
    • The herd of pigs swarming the streets is soon followed by a scene where a horde of Japanese girls swarm down on the dock where American sailors are arriving on shore leave.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Haruko defies her awful, awful mother's pressure to be Mr. Gordon's mistress. Instead, she leaves town for the factory job her uncle Kikuo offered her, but not before stealing her mother's money. The last shot is a crane shot showing Haruko's train chugging away from Yokosuka.
  • One Last Job: Kinta agrees to leave the criminal life behind and get a straight job—but only after he sells off the pigs. The predictable result follows.
  • Punk in the Trunk: After having to pick up Harukoma's body a second time, the gang tosses it in a trunk before taking it to the pig farm.
  • Rape as Drama: Haruko's night of drinking and partying ends with her being raped by three American sailors.
  • Red Light District: The seamy red light district of Yokosuka, consisting of narrow alleys, sleazy dive bars, and dirty brothels. The brothel that Kinta yanks an American sailor into in the opening scene has prostitutes humping away in bunk beds.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Kinta the idiot brandishes the machine gun at the rest of the gang, but he can't figure out how to shoot it. In frustration he drops it on the ground, and when it hits the street it sprays bullets everywhere.
  • Stupid Crooks: The Himori gang is a bunch of morons. They bungle the disposal of Harukoma's body, simply chucking it into the bay, which forces them to bury him a second time when Harukoma washes up on shore. They trust Sakiyama with 800,000 yen which he promptly absconds with. Tetsu thinks he's dying of cancer when he really only has an ulcer. The rest of the gang, when they beat up Kinta and toss him in the back of the truck, forget about the loaded machine gun that's also in the back of the truck. Kinta for his part points the machine gun at them but doesn't know how to work it.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Seen from a hooker in the brothel in the opening scene, basically Fan Disservice given the unpleasant circumstances.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: The cops are showing one around, looking for Harukoma. They don't know that Hiromi killed him.
  • Yakuza: Extremely low level, penny-ante yakuza. Ironically, this film de-glamorizing the whole idea of yakuza and portraying them as stupid bumblers came right at the beginning of a major wave of Japanese cool gangster movies.
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