Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gate of Flesh

One of my favorite directors, as mentioned somewhere previously, is Seijun Suzuki. I appreciate that he did whatever he wanted with the studio's money, and made some genuinely ambitious and visually interesting movies on a shoestring budget. I also am fond of movies that make no sense in an intriguing manner, so there's also that. Then naturally I would be rather excited about Gate of Flesh showing up at my door.

Post-war Japan was apparently a bit of a hell hole, at least if this is anything to go by. Here, we have a story about a woman named Maya - Yumiko Nogawa - who falls in with a group of prostitutes. Kayo Matsuo as Omino, Satoko Kasai as Sen, and Tamiko Ishii as Oroku welcome young Maya into prostitute club, where the only rule is to not talk about prostitute club not give away the goods for free, under punishment of severe beatings. Unfortunately, one day a stranger with utterly ridiculous cheeks, cheeks so bad they almost the movies he's in because he looks like a chipmunk with the measels and it's really distracting, arrives on their doorstep, Shintaro Ibuki as portrayed by the cheeky Jo Shishido. He had cheek injections to get that look, what's wrong with him? Apparently Japanese ladies have a thing for impossibly big cheeked men, and it slowly divides the house.

At the beginning of the film, it seems almost feminist. Yeah, they're all whores, but they work for themselves, and they're doing it by exploiting the base instincts of the surrounding men. They're the ones in control in the scenes, and they seem to wield more power than anyone else. That vaguely feminist thing comes crashing down as soon as Ibuki arrives, since he immediately becomes the most powerful character by promptly beating up one of the ladies when she tries to beat him. It's an interesting slant while it lasts, however, since the movie was also designed to tie up naked ladies and whip them, in order to titillate the movie goer - or at least that is what is claimed in the special features.

Feminist or not, the film is as a whole unrelentingly grim. Everyone who shows a trace of human compassion or caring is immediately whipped, beat, shot or raped. This list includes a kindly priest getting raped by the leading lady. The message seems to be that people in post war Japan only survived by being the worst people possible, and that was the only way to survive. I wasn't there, so maybe it's true, but it's still quite dark.

Unfortunately, this features less of the visual invention that Suzuki is famous for, and it stars my least favorite actor of all time - seriously I can barely look at him and his freakish cheeks, it's like he lives in the uncanny valley. It's a fascinatingly dark movie, the perspective of a losing country immediately post war, when they're still struggling to admit defeat and rebuild. It's grim, but let's be honest Japan, you did pretty well for yourselves in the years since. Besides, if memory serves, you were kind of dicks anyway.

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