Doctor Akagi

Set during the final days of World War II on a Japanese island containing a factory and prison camp, this late (1998) feature by Shohei Imamura is a serious yet cockeyed farce about a comically obsessed middle-aged doctor (Akira Emoto, the creepy con in The Eel) who makes the rounds of the island convinced that a hepatitis epidemic is sweeping Japan and his motley gang of helpers, which includes a young prostitute, a drunken and licentious monk, and a morphine-addicted surgeon. Beautifully realized on every level, this is a masterpiece that manages to combine low comedy and earthy humanity with apocalyptic profundity and terse wisdom; it’s not just a portrait of Japan in general and a closely knit community in particular, but a rousing black comedy about life and the world. In Japanese with subtitles. 128 min. (JR)

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