Fifty years is a long time, especially in film history. The iconoclastic Japanese New Wave, born with the release in 1959 of Nagisa Oshima's debut feature, "A Town of Love and Hope," is now an established part of Japan's cinematic canon. And in contrast to the French Nouvelle Vague, several of whose practitioners are alive and working, the Japanese Nuberu Bagu (a katakana reading) looks, at first sight, like a thing of the past.

Of the major directors, Shohei Imamura and Hiroshi Teshigahara are dead; Nagisa Oshima is ailing; and Susumu Hani and Masahiro Shinoda are retired. But in this anniversary year, DVD releases and international retrospectives are proving to audiences the world over that their work is still alive and vital.

The three films by Imamura released this month on the Criterion DVD label show some of the reasons why. Imamura avoided both the decorum of the classical Japanese cinema and the generic lineaments of much recent popular filmmaking. Instead, he essayed an unflinching realism. The heroine of "The Insect Woman," brilliantly played by Sachiko Hidari, uses any means necessary to survive; Imamura observes her actions in precise detail, but without moral judgment, as if through an entomologist's microscope.