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Archive for June, 2015

As a contract director for Nikkatsu, Seijun Suzuki pumped out about forty B-movies between 1956 and 1967, when the studio fired him for making “incomprehensible” films. In an interview in the ’90s, he said, “In normal movies, they take care to show time and space. […] But in my films, spaces and places change,” adding, “I guess that’s the strength of entertainment movies. You can do anything you want to as long as those elements make the movie interesting.” Shot in twenty-five days, and edited and mixed in just three (a normal production schedule for a Nikkatsu B-movie of the period), Gate of Flesh (1964) is less willfully avant-garde than Branded to Kill (1967) — the film that got Suzuki sacked — which suggests that the difficulty one sometimes has in following the plot is more likely the result of the haste with which the movie was made rather than a deliberate choice.

Set in a bombed out quarter of Tokyo during the American Occupation, the noirish storyline revolves around a brutish ex-soldier turned penicillin thief, Shintaro (Joe Shishido), who holes up with a band of prostitutes while recovering from a gunshot to the leg. The women — whose brightly coloured clothes contrast nicely with their scorched surroundings — form a kind of mini-cartel, each having vowed not to give it away for free. (To make it easier to tell them apart, the movie associates each woman with a different colour.) When they discover that Machiko (Misako Tominaga), who always wears a black kimono, refused payment from a trick she’s fallen in love with, the other women force her to strip, tie her hands, and beat her with a stick. According to Suzuki, the studio wanted an erotic film, and he lingers on Machiko’s punishment with kinky relish.

Notwithstanding his taste for jump cuts, here Suzuki doesn’t violate the rules of continuity editing as flagrantly as he would in later films. The only really unusual thing about his coverage in this movie is his apparent aversion to shot-reverse shot cutting. Instead of alternating between Machiko’s humiliation and the reactions of the cartel’s newest member, Maya (Yumiko Nogawa) — who’s both figuratively and literally green — Suzuki superimposes the latter over the former, though I don’t know if he did this to make the sequence more interesting or if he just did it to save money. In an interview on the DVD, the film’s production designer, Takeo Kimura, frankly admits that he decided on a theatrical style for the sets in order to cut costs, and the lighting is accordingly non-naturalistic. In one nighttime scene, an unmotivated spotlight follows Sen (Satoko Kasai), who always wears red, as she moves around the hovel where she plies her trade.

What makes the film a little confusing is its tendency to cut away in the middle of an action to an unrelated event in another location. Early on, the movie jumps from Sen asking Maya if she’s a virgin to a gratuitous scene in which a black preacher (Chico Roland, in an indescribably bad performance) comes upon a woman’s body in a field somewhere. I didn’t catch whether the woman was dead or merely unconscious, and ultimately it doesn’t matter as she’s never mentioned afterwards. And later, when the cartel members threaten to do unspecified harm to Machiko with a razor, it’s unclear if they go through with it. At the point where the sequence breaks off, they don’t seem to be moved by her pleas for mercy, but the next time we see Machiko, she appears to be alright. However, while Gate of Flesh isn’t an entirely successful movie, thanks to its lurid plot, eye-catching colour scheme, and copious sex and violence, at least it’s never a boring one.

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