Hookers Infest a Bombed-Out, Post-War Tokyo


The Criterion Collection continues its project of unleashing the filmography of Japanese subversive pulp pope Seijun Suzuki with this 1964 screamer, in which a small band of color-coded hookers infests a bombed-out, post-war Tokyo, looking for love, cash, safety, and strip-happy, whip-bloody vengeance upon anyone treading on their rubble turf. Based on a 1947 Taijiro Tamura novel that was filmed once before, tamely, Suzuki’s movie drowns the narrative in gasoline and searches for sparks. Ludicrously hyperbolic, feverishly softcore, and played entirely in the key of C for Crazy, it’s an eye feast of crushed perspective and junkyard expressionism, and every inch of its incinerated landscape pocked by American soldiers and charred architecture is a political-protest howl. (Suzuki, in a new interview on the disc, confesses to a WW II infantry career that made him hate the U.S., simple as that, but there’s little here to suggest that he was very fond of Japan either.) Psychotropic though it may be, Gate of Flesh begs comparison to Los Olvidados on one hand, Rosetta on the other, sputtering between starvation butchery and near crucifixions. It may have been intended as an exploitive B-movie, but Suzuki could never, and still can’t, keep his ferocious stews to a low boil. Extras include a trailer, archival art, and an interview with designer Takeo Kimura, responsible for the film’s apocalypse-on-the-cheap sets. Criterion’s also releasing Suzuki’s 1965 take on another Tamura novel, Story of a Prostitute, a comparatively somber but no less acidic social excoriation of the Japanese military’s recruitment of “comfort women” during WW II.

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