DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
GATE OF FLESH (NIKUTAI NO MON) (director: Seijun Suzuki; screenwriters: Goro Tanada/from the book by Taijiro Tamura; cinematographer: Shigeyoshi Mine; editor: Akira Suzuki; music: Naozumi Yamamoto; cast: Yumiko Nogawa (Maya), Jo Shishido (Shintaro Ibuki), Kayo Matsuo (Mino), Satoko Kasai (Sen), Tamiko Ishii (Roku), Misako Tominaga (Machiko), Isao Tamagawa (Horidome), Koji Wada (Abe), Keisuke Noro (Ishii, Mob Boss), Chico Roland (Black Pastor); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kaneo Iwai; Criterion Films; 1964-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

 
"Visually more engaging than is the lurid pulp story."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A soft-core sex exploitation film from renown, nonconformist Japanese director Seijun Suzuki ("Pistol Opera"/"Branded to Kill"), that delivers a sensational melodrama about a group of tough street prostitutes in post-WWII Tokyo (during the days of the American occupation) who are eking out a dog-eat-dog existence. It's from the book by Taijiro Tamura and penned by Goro Tanada. 

The film opens with starving orphan 18-year-old Maya (Yumiko Nogawa) stealing a sweet potato from a vendor and soon joining up with street-wise tattooed prostitute Sen (Satoko Kasai), who lives in the black market area in an abandoned bombed-out building with a group of other streetwalkers: Roku (Tamiko Ishii), Mino (Kayo Matsuo), and Machiko (Misako Tominaga). This close-knit sisterhood lives by the following code: no pimps, allow no other streetwalker into their turf, and no freebies or else expect a beating. According to the 1994 book Branded to Kill, Suzuki has them dress in specific colors that reflect what they symbolize: Sen is costumed in crimson reflecting "sudden eruptions and fear," Roku in yellow "niceness and compromise," Mino in purple "inner revulsion," and Machiko in a traditional kimono and wooden sandals "representing Japan's destroyed past." New streetgirl Maya favors green dresses and either pouts or bubbles over with passion. She feels debased and scared her entire family was wiped out by the war, as she keeps running into a black pastor who tries to drag her back to church.

The pulpish story revolves around unrepentant returnee soldier Shintaro Ibuki (Jo Shishido) hiding out in the basement with this group after he stabs a GI to death, with the American MP's in hot pursuit. His presence arouses a growing lust among all the girls and their solidarity comes into question, as each of them wants to go to bed with the vicious holdup man who is perceived as a real man who can make them feel like a real woman. It leads to a few sado-masochistic scenes, as those who give him a freebie get punished with a whipping while naked. His presence finally leads to a deeper tragedy, and an unexpected ending. The American presence is viewed as a corrupting one, while Suzuki aims at shocking his 1960s Japanese audience about the humiliation of defeat and the loss of fundamental values. Visually more engaging than is the lurid pulp story; it also has a way of making the shocking events, violence and sexuality seem sensible, if that's possible, considering the collective damage done to the country.

REVIEWED ON 8/11/2005        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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