In the shady black markets and bombed-out hovels of post–World War II Tokyo, a tough band of prostitutes eke out a dog-eat-dog existence, maintaining tenuous friendships and a semblance of order in a world of chaos. But when a renegade ex-soldier stumbles into their midst, lusts and loyalties clash, with tragic results. With Gate of Flesh (Nikutai no mon), visionary director Seijun Suzuki delivers a whirlwind of social critique and pulp drama, shot through with brilliant colors and raw emotions.
Seijun Suzuki (sometimes billed as Kiyoshi or Seitaro Suzuki) is the nearest Japan has ever come to producing a filmmaker in the mould of Sam Fuller, the American GI-turned-director who specialised in authentically gritty war films (The Steel Helmet, Fixed Bayonets) and appropriately nasty gangster movies (House Of Bamboo, The Crimson Kimono). Likewise, former soldier Suzuki served up his own brand of exploitation cinema focusing on the Japanese crime scene in general, and yakuza gang conflict in particular.
Suzkui also shared Fuller’s flair for lurid titles, his CV featuring such exciting-sounding fare as The Brute, Branded To Kill, Our Blood Will Not Forgive and The Fang In The Hole.
Gate Of Flesh (aka Nikutai No Mon) may sound like a ghastly porn-horror hybrid but is in fact a study of the Tokyo sex industry in the wake of WWII. Adapted from the novel by Taijiro Tamura (who also wrote Story Of A Prostitute which Suzuki would film a year later), Yumiko Nogawa stars as Maya, a young girl who hopes her thankless situation will be improved by hooking up with four prostitutes. These are no regular ladies of the night though – they live by a strict code which dictates that they never work for a pimp and just furiously defend the rundown building that is their home. This second stipulation means the women aren’t happy when local criminal Shintaro (Shisihdo) comes looking for shelter after murdering a GI. Allowed to hide out with them until his wounds heal, Shintaro outstays his welcome, which upsets everyone except the smitten Maya. But in opening her heart to a man, Maya breaks the most sacred of the prostitutes’ commandments – thou shalt not fall in love with your clients.
An immensely brutal movie, Gate Of Flesh won’t be to everybody’s taste – the violence towards women is particularly hard to take. However, like all the best exploitation movies, it’s readily apparent that Suzuki’s film is more than a lurid exercise in sex and violence. Rather, this is an excellent character study bent on examining not only those who populate the picture but the complex nature of the times.
The question of villainy is also contemplated in sophisticated fashion, with the misdeeds of the occupying Americans being thrown into sharp relief by Shintaro’s treatment of the prostitutes, and the womens’ own behaviour towards one another.
Right up there with Suzuki’s other acclaimed pictures such as Branded To Kill and Tokyo Drifter, Gate Of Flesh features wonderful naturalistic performances, and also showcases great work from the director’s regular collaborators, namely cinematographer Shigeyoshi Mine and composer Naozumi Yamamoto. Sure, it lacks the sweep of Akira Kurosawa’s epics and the compositional beauty of Yasujiro Ozu’s best work, but in its own unflinching fashion Suzuki’s film doesn’t look out of place alongside the classics of Japanese cinema.
by Channel 4 Film