Gate of Flesh (Seijun Suzuki / Japan, 1964):
(Nikutai no Mon)

From the opening credits (a salacious peddler’s tracing of Guernica) on, the screen sports a thin layer of sweat. The "city of savages" is Tokyo circa 1946, Seijun Suzuki sketches it with a flurry of scarring slashes and sob ballads. His metaphor is the meat market in the midst of postwar rubble, mouthy prostitutes as merchandise and G.I. Joes as prized customers: symbolism so blunt even the gals can’t help laughing ("Something’s crazy when our bodies cost the same as beef"). The streetwalkers are the heroines, hopping around, flashing tattoos, picking rumbles, flogging each other in their dungeon-lair. The fox in the henhouse is a battlefield survivor (Jo Shishido), a loutish ex-soldier who ardently takes to stabbing Yanks, slapping crones, and trafficking penicillin for Yakuza gangs. The hardened pro (Satoko Kasai) and the novice (Yumiko Nogawa) reach for whips to win his affections. An uproarious caricature of Mizoguchi’s fallen women, with softcore porn exploitation continually spiked by Suzuki’s political vehemence and bottomless bag of visual slaps -- thought-balloon superimpositions, baffling sing-alongs, cutout sets and painted sunsets, scenes doused in crimson, green, yellow, purple to match the characters’ dresses. Flags abound in Hades, the Stars-and-Stripes trumpets a rape while the Rising Sun blankets a cackling-blubbering brute. A lyrical, Godardian bit plunks the camera in the middle of a bustling noodle shop, fastened to the back of the weary, irritated rookie’s head while some geisha's disembodied voice offers an incantatory lament for old values ("A woman belongs in the home... My father loved my mother, and my mother loved my father..."). Sleeping with a man for free is as much of a cardinal sin in Suzuki’s animalistic Japan as dreaming of romantic escape, Nogawa’s desolate runaway is severely punished for both; the camera cranes away to take in the panoramic pigpen, "we live in a democracy now." With Kayo Matsuo, Tamiko Ishii, Misako Tominaga, and Isao Tamagawa.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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