Monday, January 30, 2006

Notes on Film-"Gate of Flesh"

Saturday, I watched Gate of Flesh, a film by Japanese director Seijin Suzuki. I had learned about his movies in an Entertainment Weekly DVD section last year when Criterion, who primarily put out classy extra-filled DVDs of classic foreign and independent films. Though all the movies seem to be kinda weird 1950-1960s Japanese B-movies, I must have been intrigued when I read the article because I wrote it down. Plus, there must be something interesting about htem for Criterion to release them. So, Gate came from Netflix. It is a 1964 movie, a lurid tale about a group of prostitutes in post-WWII Japan whose group dynamic and unity fall apart when a male thief takes refuge with them. It has a lot of profanity and nudity, which is cleverly hidden by shadows. It also has two scenes where the prostitutes punish, by whipping, other prostitutes within the group who have broken their cardinal rule against having sex with any man for free. These scenes are brutal but also shown to be sexual. To be honest, I didn't see what all the fuss was about. So, I watched the interviews with the director and his production designer shot for this re-release and that helped shed a little light on it. To me, the movie reminded me of stylized American westerns and French films from that time. Both director and production designer made this 'adult release' movie under contract to the film studio and were only given a B-movie budget to work with. But the production designer who had also studied theatrical (and not just film) production design used theater set tricks and old plywood that the studio was going to throw away anyway (so there was no expense) to build the bombed-out Tokyo set on the backlot which was not entirely realistic but had emotional and symbolic resonance. The director also infused the movie with the sadness of the defeated Japan and a resentment of the American influence in post-war Japan. That is what really made it unique when it could have just been a lurid B-movie.

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