GATE OF FLESH
Review by Ed Nguyen
Yumiko Nogawa, Satoko Kasai, Joe Shishido, Misako Tominaga, Tomiko Ishii, Kayo
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Audio: Japanese monaural
Video: Color, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen
Features: From the Ruins: Making of Gate of Flesh featurette, stills gallery, trailer, essay
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2005
bottom, suffer the hard times, and rebuild from scratch.
That's the only route to a new life."
flesh, thieves, and whores - such are the images conjured up by ill-advised late
night strolls through the darker, less reputable thruways of the modern
metropolis. Beneath the sheen and
glimmer of our towering skyscrapers and glaring neon strobe lights, there
lingers in the shadows a festering, chronic contagion of despair and
is the message imparted to viewers by Seijun Suzuki's Gate of Flesh (1964). An
adaptation of Taijiro Tamura's sheering 1947 novel, "Nikutai no mon," Gate
of Flesh is about the venal underworld of Japanese prostitutes among the
ruins of an immediate post-war Tokyo. Within
this post-apocalyptic setting, the people persevere as street vagabonds or
savages caught in a kill-or-be-killed mentality.
of Flesh is
fairly typical fare from the catalog of Seijun Suzuki's Nikkatsu Studio films. Suzuki is primarily known today for his crime caper B-flicks Tokyo
Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill
(1967), both surreal yazuka thrillers, but under his contract years at the
Nikkatsu Studio, he developed a reputation as an irreverent filmmaker bent on
superceding cinematic conventions in search of different ways of making films.
If his idiosyncrasies increasingly frustrated his studio heads, Suzuki
nonetheless became the Japanese controversial and subversive equivalent to
France's Jean-Luc Godard. One can
detect in Gate of Flesh some of the New Wave influences, such as with Hiroshima
Mon Amour, which had propelled 1960's Japanese cinema towards more
experimental, pop-art sensibilities. The
best Suzuki films from the 1960's displayed the director's vibrant, energetic
style as well as an incredible sense of lighting and color, of which Gate
of Flesh is a prime example.
film revolves around a small band of prostitutes eking out a meager living along
the war-ravaged streets of an anonymous Japanese city (though certainly Tokyo).
Among the women, Komasa Sen (Satoko Kasai), is the self-appointed leader,
a crimson-red attired, hot-blooded
mama among this sorority of streetwalking sisters.
With her voraciously red dress and her hair tied up with a red scarf, the
ends of which poke up like two little horns, she could easily pass for a
devilish succubus. New to this
sisterhood is Maya (Yumiko Nogawa), an embittered, starving teen at the end of
her ropes, clinging to an existence in which any desperate young woman becomes
mere fodder for exploitation or rape. Her
hunger soon gives way to an inauguration into this lurid profession, her chosen
color green perhaps a reflection of her novice status. There is also Mino with her garishly purple outfits and Roku
in vomit-yellow garb. Symbolizing a
way of life perhaps lost forever in the postwar environment is the
traditionally-clothed Machiko (Misako Tominaga), with her kimono and obi and shy
mannerisms. She represents the
proverbial hooker with a heart of gold, but in this base and unsympathetic
world, there is little room for her, and Machiko's future will present a nasty
surprise for her.
happiness does not await any of these women, but they must endure the
consequences of their actions and transgressions nonetheless.
Wandering the myriad flophouses and congested conglomeration of
aggressive street vendors and black marketers, the prostitutes seek their simple
pleasures and some meaning to their lives, all the while operating by a sworn
mantra: "Never give it to a guy for free.
This is a business, and our bodies are our merchandise."
the potential customer base are the local American GIs, portrayed as little more
than hormonally-overcharged schoolboys. However,
these girls shun the GIs and viciously slander those hookers who might canter to
the whimsy of the American soldiers. Indeed,
portions of the film are a thinly-veiled diatribe against America (not too
surprising, considering the original novel's publication date and Seijun
Suzuki's own bitter experiences in the Japanese military).
The people of this world still bear a lot of resentment for losing the
war, and hints of this sadness or shame is evident in their daily talk and
behavior, from their crestfallen looks at dishonored returnees from the war to
their scorn of the American GIs based around the city.
emasculated Japanese pride cowers like the occasional image of raped hookers.
The rare war returnee who stands with shoulders erect and confidence
intact is truly a source of admiration amongst these people, desperate for any
sign of inspiration for the future. One
such returnee is Shin (Joe Shishido), an aggressive and dominant Alpha Male,
wanted for assault, who bullies his way into the prostitutes' lives and breaks
their spirits with sudden and reckless ease.
While the first half of Gate of
Flesh follows Maya's initiation into her new profession, the second half of
the film then follows Sen and Maya's increasing struggle of wills as each
strives to win Shin's affections.
such a cat fight over a dishonorable thief and cruel man would even occur merely
illustrates the tragic insanity and desperate, if unspoken, plight of not only
these prostitutes but everyone in their community.
If the scraps and scums of the earth are all that remains worth fighting
over, then where is there true hope for a better tomorrow?
the world of Gate of Flesh is not a
pleasant one. The pustules and
lecherous mores of humanity abound here. There
are abrupt and sudden outbursts of violence in the streets.
One particularly cruel scene has a naked prostitute being flogged before
Shin's leering and approving eyes. Even
men of the Cloth are not immune, as seen in the forceful seduction, corruption,
and ultimate destruction of one good-hearted priest.
Perhaps the most disturbing scene may be the actual on-screen slaughter
of a cow, symbolic in itself of the misery endured by these streetwalkers. This is Basic Anatomy 101; vegetarians might want to
fast-forward through this quick but rather gory butchery scene.
portrays Tokyo not as a modern utopia but as a "dystopia."
With its rainy nights, shadowy alleys, and grime-covered walls, this
truly visceral world harkens to one shadow-world vision of a potential
"future," much like that seen in Blade
Runner, Carol Reed's The Third Man,
or even Sin City. While the set design is most impressive in Gate of Flesh, the world itself may be too pessimistic for some.
1960's standards, Gate of Flesh must
have seemed rather shocking. There
are occasional flashes of flesh (but always strategically obscured by articles
of clothing or shadows), and the risqué sewage that pours from the mouths of
the prostitutes would singe the ears of any puritanical viewer, assuming he
understood Japanese. This film is
certainly a far cry away from the more composed, traditional styles of revered
Japanese directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, or Kenji Mizoguchi.
Nevertheless, Seijun Suzuki's film opens an aggressively atmospheric
window into the war-torn landscape of postwar Japan.
Let it stand as a
precautionary tale against any potential, future apocalyptic tendencies.
of Flesh is
presented in its original Nikkatsuscope aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
The transfer was created from a 35mm low-contrast print made from the
original camera negative. The print
appears fairly pristine, and detail levels are well preserved.
The film looks quite excellent with vibrant bursts of colors that
accentuate the red and green hues. In
fact, the flamboyant colors frequently give this film the dreamlike, saturated
appearance of a Technicolor MGM musical extravaganza.
of Flesh is
presented in Japanese 1.0 with optional English subtitles.
Though a little thin in the lower dynamic ranges, the film sounds decent
for a monaural film. Tics and
background noise have been reduced greatly, so the soundtrack is fairly clean,
main bonus feature on the DVD is From the
Ruins: Making of Gate of Flesh (22 min.).
This featurette includes an interview with director Seijun Suzuki and
production designer Takeo Kimura. Suzuki
describes the genesis of the film from the studio's desire for an erotic film
that would be acceptable to Japan's Motion Picture Ethics Committee.
On an aside, he also briefly relates the bitterness of his war
experiences, which can be readily sensed in the film.
Kimura's contributions center obviously around the film's impressive set
designs, a miracle in themselves considering the film's B-movie budget.
Artwork for the sets is included as a supplement to Kimura's comments.
there is a stills gallery (25 entries) containing rare production photographs
and artwork, either for the original novel or for the film's promotion.
Further on the promotional end is a no-holds-barred original theatrical
trailer that virtually screams, "Exploitation!"
Judging from this trailer, it is easy to envision Gate
of Flesh as a precursor to the 1970's cultural phenomenon of blaxploitation
and women-in-prison films.
there is a visceral punch of an essay by Asian film critic Chuck Stephens,
printed on the DVD insert. Stephens
has an almost cyberpunk methodology of using descriptive words and adjectives;
the essay literally teems with energy and vibe, although the lurid subject
matter does compel one to take a breather by the end of the essay for a gut