Last night I finally got to watch my latest NetFlix arrival, Gate of Flesh, by Seijun Suzuki. Now, I can already hear the gasps among some of my friends who will read this and think I’ve descended into genres heretofore “taboo”. Gate of Flesh is a 1964 film from the famous Nikkatsu studios of Japan. The script was originally intended to be a low budget, semi-erotic flick (ok, I admit it) about a sisterhood of prostitutes surviving in postwar Tokyo and the drama ensuing when a former soldier joins their family. The script was handed to contract director Seijun Suzuki who turned the script into a surreal drama with the visual and psychological aesthetics that have made him an undeniable rock and rebel in cinematic history. (other notables I’ve commented on in the past are Branded to Kill – which got him fired from Nakkatsu and Tokyo Drifter) [ Wikipedia does a much better job extolling the merits and history of Suzuki; his article is located here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seijun_Suzuki). ]
Gate of Flesh plays the hands of innocence vs experience, love vs. lust, sacred vs sacrilage, and freedom vs occupation by the United States. Suzuki evokes these ideas within a simple plot of a young woman named Maya who becomes a street worker. As she descends (quite literally) into the ruins of Tokyo and into the dark underpinnings of her own desperation, she assumes a family of like women. It becomes quickly apparent that the big sisters who should be her supports are more childlike than herself, and when a man named Shin joins their world, already tenuous relationships break and Maya falls further into her descent. The outcome and the meaning I think are best left for you to experience first hand, but needless to say, the best parts of the film will be left untold here.
Having read that, you’re probably thinking this isn’t the feel-good movie of the season. It’s not. It is gorgeous. It is moving in its sheer brilliance and depth. The cinematography and the sets are so well married it is astounding to realize Suzuki had only 10 days to preproduce and 25 days to shoot (according to interviews with the director himself on the Criterion Collection DVD). The performances are each individual and supberb. Suzuki’s production designer Takeo Kimura comments in the interviews that Suzuki did not direct for reality but his own surrealistic vision of the characters.
If you have a penchant for artfilms, the time and an open mind, you should really sit down and watch this film.