Gate of Flesh
January 14, 2006
Based on the novel by Taijiro Tamura, Seijun Suzuki’s Gate of Flesh (1964) explores the harsh world of post-World War II prostitutes in Tokyo, in particular, a group whose already tenuous relationship with each other is put to the test when a wild, ex-soldier named Shintaro (Shishido) takes refuge with them after being wanted by the Military Police for stabbing a GI. Tamura’s book was published in 1947 and made into a heavily compromised movie in 1948 by Masahiko Makino.
The group of prostitutes live in a bombed out building with their own harsh way of life as one of them puts it, “You find your own johns and sell yourself. It’s not difficult. No pimps getting in the way and demanding a cut.” They are fiercely independent, only looking out for themselves as evident in the way they swiftly deal with an intruder. Their cardinal rule is don’t give it out for free and they enforce this credo with cruel intensity. As retribution for one of their own breaking this rule, they tie her up, cut her hair short and then leave her naked on a boat for all to see.
It’s an understatement to say that these women are a tough group. They don’t care about anybody else, spitting food at passersby who even look at them. They fight with a rival gang of prostitutes for sleeping with American GIs and get tattoos as badges of honour. To contrast the drab, devastated exteriors, Suzuki has the prostitutes wear bright, primary colours with each girl being represented by their own colour that reflects their personality and gives the film an almost comic book look, at times.
Post-WWII was a tumultuous time for Tokyo. We are presented with a city still coping with the fallout from deadly fire bombings. Occupied by the United States with prostitutes subjected to police raids and people being shot on the street by MPs for being out at night, it’s survival of the fittest, social Darwinism on the most primal level. People feel ashamed of losing the war and resent the U.S. occupation and this leads to rampant unrest and a thriving underworld that Suzuki is unafraid to examine like some unhinged Japanese version of Sam Fuller: a pulp sensibility mixed with a polished filmmaking style.
Gate of Flesh exposes the raw emotional and physical wounds of Japan that had not time to heal. He does not make the same mistake that the previous film adaptation did and instead creates a lurid, unflinching movie in all of its amoral glory. Gate of Flesh would be the first in Suzuki’s “flesh trilogy” along with Story of a Prostitute (1965) and Carmen from Kawachi (1966). In a wild way, Suzuki’s movie was like a form of cinematic therapy for the Japanese people, allowing them to confront their past in an exciting and entertaining way.
“From the Ruins” is an interview with Suzuki and the film’s production designer Takeo Kimura. At the time, the director was under contract by the studio and had to make the scripts that were given to him into movies. He got around the censors of the day by filming the nudity in a clever way, obscuring it just enough. Kimura had many ideas for the movie and Suzuki was very receptive to them. This is a good look at how Gate of Flesh was made.
There is a theatrical trailer.
Finally, there is a “Stills Gallery” of production sketches and photos.