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Friday, July 25, 2014

Nikutai No Mon (aka Gate Of Flesh) (1964)

In the burnt out squalor of postwar Tokyo, a recent rape victim (Yumiko Nogawa) joins up with four prostitutes who ply their trade and keep a strict code (no sleeping with American G.I.s, no sex for free). But when an ex-soldier (Joe Shishido, he of the chipmunk cheeks) moves in with the women, their carefully knit "family" begins to unravel. If you're familiar with director Seijun Suzuki's notable work in the Yakuza genre for which he's known, this film may come as something of a revelation. Before anything else, the film's stunning production design by Takeo Kimura must be addressed. Kimura is just as much responsible for the film's artistry as Suzuki. The Tokyo slums are totally fabricated on the Nikkatsu backlot which gives the film an often surreal and intentionally stylized look with no attempt to conceal that they are sets. Combined with the vivid color scheme (the prostitutes are identified by the color of their dresses) which would do Douglas Sirk proud, Suzuki truly creates a hellish atmosphere. As for the narrative, though it comes almost 20 years after the end of WWII, there's a bitterness toward the American occupation of Japan and the loss of the war running through the film. Tellingly, as a character describes the Hell on earth, the last shot of the film is of an American flag. I'm not suggesting that the film is anti-American by any means but rather the film is about the hopelessness of defeat and the animal existence the survivors of war and an occupied country must resort to. Startlingly, some of the brutality is actually quite erotic and intended so but I could have done without the graphic slaughter of a cow. Based on a novel by Taijiro Tamura. With Satoko Kasai, Tomiko Ishii and Misako Tominaga.

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