Nikutai no Mon (1964) Gate of Flesh
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Starring Yumiko Nogawa, Jo Shishido
Powerful, angry albeit melodramatic drama set in post war Tokyo, a story told from the perspective of a young girl Maya (Yumiko Nogawa) who is desperately looking for a way to earn some money and survive. Maya teams up with a group of women who work the streets; theyve organised themselves with their own code of conduct to ensure that no other girls work their territory and to keep the pimps at bay.
Their system is disrupted with the arrival of Shin, a small time crook who has been wounded, slowly each of their affections are aroused by him because of his strength, he also reminds them of husbands, lovers or relatives theyve lost because of the war. Maya herself falls for him and they plan to rendezvous at a bridge then make their escape together but the jealousy and rage of the other girls ensures that there will be no happy ending.
Among the things that make this film so good are the actresses, each excellent in their role, convincing as a group of women in sheer desperation who revert to base levels in order to be able to exist. The atmosphere of post-war Tokyo, all hustle and bustle, cramped with a people broken and dispirited by the war and the ensuing US occupation is also convincing.
Thats another point of the story, there is a strong subtext against the US occupation, the stars and stripes flutters proudly in the wind while a bedraggled rising sun floats, mud splattered in the stinking canal. US soldiers find a rape victim in a field, as soon as they realise shes Japanese they drive off leaving her lying there. The US troops run the show with the Japanese police acting as their lackeys and there is a deep-rooted hatred from the girls for them.
There are some scenes that could certainly be deemed as exploitational, these involve the girls doling out the punishment to their own if they break the code of conduct. The accused are stripped and severely beaten, although the scene is lit to ensure the lower region is shadowed, you get the feeling that its purpose is to titillate.
Despite my reservations regarding the beatings, I still think this is a film that is well worth seeing and as such is recommended.
BBFC rated 18
Available on R2 Pal dvd from Hanzibar films and on R1 ntsc from Criterion.