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STORY OF A PROSTITUTE
March 24, 2008
Netflix Criterion DVD
Seijun Suzuki [Tokyo Drifter; Branded To Kill]
Not really what it sounds like. The story is mostly based around the comparison of a woman who gives herself to men willingly, and men who give themselves to Country willingly. It's from the mid-60s so don't expect content that you'd get if a 2008 version were made.
A woman, upset over the breakup of a love affair, travels with the Japanese army into China during World War II to act as a "comfort woman." In actuality, comfort women were typically non-Japanese women kidnapped and forced into prostitution after their villages or towns were invaded by the powerful Japanese army. This woman, however, goes because "I want to press against many men" to forget her true love who left her. She travels to a country outpost and begins working immediately. The women become a tentative group of girlfriends, none of whom is overly upset about their fate. She falls for a quiet "perfect soldier" who bows to every whim of his superior, a drunken buffoon, who ironically becomes smitten with our heroine, Harumi.
Falling for the prostitute would be tantamount to disobeying the orders of his superior. What's an ambitious soldier to do?
The hookers are looked down upon, and our heroine, in kind, looks down upon men who blindly follow the orders of their superiors. There is a strong feeling of Japanese pride throughout. Or is it Japanese ridicule in how a soldier acts during times of war? Especially important is the Japanese idea of surrender v. suicide.
Suzuki went on to make Yakuza pictures and this is considered his Kubrickian masterpiece. There are freeze-frames, whiteout lighting effects, and an incredible scene where Harumi runs through a battlefield in search of her lover who is thought to be dead in a foxhole. She's wearing full Japanese gear, sandals, kimono and running over and through debris while bombs go off all around her in brilliant white flashes. The camera tracks her for what seems like a full mile.
The film is a bit experimental for modern audiences and assumes that the viewer knows where Japanese social norms diverge from western ones.