Tokyo, 8 January 1912.
Tokyo Imperial University, until 1935.
Married in 1934 and 1955.
Assistant at J.O. Studio, Kyoto, from 1935; directed first film,
, 1939; joined Communist party, late 1940s; left Toho, helped initiate
independent film production movement, 1950; "prestige
director" for Toei, Daiei, and other studios, 1953 through 1960s;
resumed independent production, 1969.
Mainichi Film Competition Award, for
The People's Enemy
, 1946; five Kinema Jumpo Awards for Best Japanese Film, 1950s.
22 November 1991.
Numazu Hei-gakko ( Numazu Military Academy ); Waga kyokan ( Our Teacher )
Tajiko mura ( The Village of Tajiko ); Onna no machi ( Women's Town ); Kakka ( Your Highness )
Kekkon no seitai ( Married Life )
Boro no kesshitai ( The Suicide Troops of the Watch Tower ; The Death Command of the Tower )
Ikari no umi ( Angry Sea )
Ai to chikai ( Love and Pledge )
Minshu no teki ( An Enemy of the People ; The People's Enemy ); Jinsei tonbo-gaeri ( Life Is like a Somersault )
Chikagai nijuyo-jikan ( Twenty-four Hours of a Secret Life )
Aoi sanmyaku ( Green Mountains ) parts I and II; Onna no kao ( A Woman's Face )
Mata au hi made ( Until We Meet Again )
Dokkoi ikiteiru ( Still We Live )
Yamabiko gakko ( School of Echoes )
Himeyuri no to ( The Tower of Lilies ; Himeyuri Lily Tower ); Nigori-e ( Muddy Water )
Aisureba koso ( Because I Love ), episode; Koko ni izumi ari ( Here Is a Fountain ); Yukiko
Mahiru no ankoku ( Darkness at Noon )
Kome ( Rice ); Junai monogatari ( The Story of Pure Love )
Yoru no tsuzumi ( The Adulteress ; Night Drum ); Kiku to Isamu ( Kiku and Isamu )
Shiroi gake ( The Cliff ; White Cliff )
Are ga minato no hikari da ( That Is the Port Light )
Nippon no obachan ( Japanese Grandmothers ; The Old Women of Japan )
Bushido zankoku monogatari ( Bushido: Samurai Saga ; The Cruel Story of the Samurai's Way )
Echigo tsutsuishi oyashirazu ( Death in the Snow ); Adauchi ( Revenge )
Sato-gashi ga kazureru toki ( When the Cookie Crumbles )
Fushin no toki ( The Time of Reckoning )
Hashi no nai kawa ( River without Bridges )
Hashi no nai kawa ( River without Bridges ) Part II
En to iu onna ( A Woman Named En )
Aa koe naki tomo ( Ah! My Friends without Voice ); Kaigun tokubetsu shonen hei ( Special Boy Soldiers of the Navy )
Kobayashi Takiji ( The Life of a Communist Writer )
Ani imoto ( Mon and Ino ; Older Brother and Younger Sister ); Yoba ( The Old Woman Ghost )
Himeyuri no to ( Himeyuri Lily Tower ) (remake)
Senso to Seishun ( War and Youth )
Anderson, Joseph, and Donald Richie, The Japanese Film , New York, 1961; revised edition, Princeton, 1982.
Mellen, Joan, Voices from the Japanese Cinema , New York, 1975.
Mellen, Joan, The Waves at Genji's Door , New York, 1976.
Philippe, Pierre, "Imai: La Femme infidèle," in Cinéma (Paris), February 1964.
Tayama, Rikiya, "Imai Tadashi," in Image et Son (Paris), July 1964.
Iawaski, Akira, "La Production independante," in Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1969.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 2 December 1991.
Obituary, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), January 1992.
Obituary, in Kino (Warsaw), October 1992.
* * *
After displaying early Marxist commitment, Tadashi Imai was forced to give up politics under Japan's World War II military regime. Because of the regime's ideological restriction, Imai's first works were so-called "war-collaboration" films. Some of them are nonetheless valued for Western-style action sequence technique (for example, The Death Command of the Tower ) and for the successful depiction of the personality of an army officer ( Our Teacher ).
Imai's postwar return to Marxism surprised his audience. As early as 1946, he made a film that severely attacked corruption among the wartime rulers, and he preached on behalf of postwar democracy in The People's Enemy. Imai's real fame came with his record-breaking commercial success, Green Mountains , which became legendary for its reflection of the almost revolutionary excitement of the postwar period. The film depicts, in a light, humorous style, the struggle at a small town high school against the established institutions and values.
Until We Meet Again became another legendary film for its romantic, lyrical treatment of tragic wartime love. In particular, the scene of the young lovers kissing through the window glass became famous. The Red Purge at the time of the Korean War drove Imai out of the organized film industry. He then became one of the most active filmmakers, initiating the postwar leftist independent film production movement.
His successive films fall into two main categories—films analyzing social injustice and oppression from the communist point of view, and meticulously made literary adaptations. The films of the first category outnumber the second. Imai was much influenced by Italian neorealism in his themes and semi-documentary method based on location shooting. The hardship and tribulations of the proletariat are depicted in Still We Live (about day-laborers), Rice (concerning farmers), and That Is the Port Light (about fishermen and problems between Japan and Korea). Social problems are treated in School of Echoes (concerning the progressive education movement in a poor mountain village), Kiku and Isamu , which deals with Japanese-black mixed-blood children, Japanese Grandmother (on the aged), and River without Bridges I and II , about discrimination against the outcast class. The mistaken verdict in a murder case is the subject of Darkness at Noon , which condemns the police and the public prosecutor. Himeyuri Lily Tower , another commercial hit, depicts tragic fighting on Okinawa toward the end of the war, showing the cruelty of both the Japanese and the American forces. Night Drum, The Cruel Story of the Samurai's Way, Revenge , and A Woman Named En focus on feudalism and its oppression from the viewpoint of its victims.
These films all embody an explicit and rather crude leftist point-of-view. However, Imai's talent at entertaining the audience with deft storytelling and comfortable pacing attracted popular and critical support for his work. Imai is especially skillful in powerful appeals to the audience's sentimentalism. His distinctive lyrical and humanistic style is valued and helps us to differentiate Imai from other more dogmatic leftist directors.
Imai is also appreciated for his depiction of details. This trait helped make his literary adaptations (e.g., Muddy Water ) so successful that every ambitious actress was said to want to appear in Imai's films to obtain prizes. His collaboration with the excellent scenario writer, Yoko Mizuki, is indispensable to Imai's success.
Imai's unchanged formula of the poor being oppressed by the authorities became increasingly out-of-date through the 1960s and 1970s. However, his lyricism still proved to be attractive in more recent works, such as Older Brother and Younger Sister.