Written by: Michael Den Boer on August 3rd, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, May 31st, 1964
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Writer: Goro Tanada
Cast: Yumiko Nogawa, Jo Shishido, Kayo Matsuo, Satoko Kasai, Tamiko Ishii
DVD released: July 26th, 2005
Approximate running time: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Japanese
DVD Release: Criterion
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.95
Synopsis: Tokyo is a shell of its former safe after the end of World War 2 with many of its citizen’s homeless and out of work. Maya is a young woman who is all alone in this world since her brother died fighting for his country during the war. Homeless and hungry she gets caught trying to steal some food when a man who works for Yoshino clan steps in and offers to pay for her meal. He introduces Maya to a group of prostitutes who show her the ins and outs of the business. After Maya becomes a prostitute she then moves into a burn out factory that four other prostitutes named Omino, Sen, Oroku and Machiko. Things run smoothly at first until the arrival Shintero (Joe Shishida) a former solider who is now wanted by the American MP’s for knifing one of them. Each of the five woman become fixated on Shinatero and as the jealously starts to build alliances are formed. When faced with a problem that they can’t resolve all of the woman return to primal instincts as they unleash their rage on each other.
Director Seijun Suzuki is best known for his pop art explosions Branded to kill and Tokyo Drifter. Gate of Flesh an earlier film from Suzuki embodies some of the visual flare that he would use with reckless abandon on his later films. Seijun Suzuki had a knack for taking subjects that are often whispered and talked about in dark dank alleys and turning them into full blown melodrama’s that are impossible to look away from. Post war Japan is subject Suzuki and many of his peers would explore in several of theirs films.
In Gate of Flesh there is some extremely strong icon imagery that sums ups the directors’ hatred and anti-American sentiments that were due to his war time experiences which he discusses more in the interview included with this DVD. One scene in particular cuts really deep when two American G.I.’s pull up to a young Japanese girl who has just been raped and when they discover that she is Japanese they turn their back on her and offer her no help. Suzuki is very good at picking his spots for social commentary as a director and even when he was given material that wasn’t up to par he would work with it elevating to a level unimaginable when looked at in its raw form.
Most of the Suzuki films that I have seen to date are mostly made of strong male leads and women often nothing more then decoration. In Gate of Flesh this is the direct opposite as the five main characters are all women and it is not even tell half way through the film that a strong male character in the form of Shintero is even fully introduced. The women struggle to survive and the bonds that they have made with each other is the heart and soul of this film. Unable to find work they are forced to sell the only valuable commodity they have left their body. It is also in the flesh trade that they gain their power because they support themselves without the assistance of man and they have just one rule that is broken by one the women in the film that sex should never be given away for free because that is the only bargaining tool they have left. The punishment for this crime is brutal and often life threatening as the women let out their rage on the women who has broken the rule.
One of the weakest parts of the film is the character of Shintero as his character just seems to pop up at opportune times and he is never fully developed as a character. This films desolate set’s add to the films realism even though a few of the sets look cheaply made like when a backdrop looks like it was painted. Suzuki adds a touch of surrealism in e few scenes with his bold use of color and his deliberate positioning of iconic religious imagery.
Criterion presents Gate of Flesh in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it has been given an anamorphic enhancement for widescreen televisions. The films bold colors are nicely saturated and flesh tones look healthy through out. The blacks look solid as grain is kept to minimum and the image retains an exceptional amount of detail. There are no problems with compression, artifacts or edge enhancement. The image remains stable through out as the source print used is in great shape as it looked virtually flawless. Criterion’s high definition transfer is their best looking Seijun Suzuki release to date.
This DVD comes with only one audio option the films original Japanese language track presented in a Dolby Digital Mono. The effect and music never drown each other out as the dialog is always crisp and easy to understand. There are no problems with hiss or distortion as this audio track is extremely clean. English subtitles have been included that are easy to follow and understand.
After their stellar on the audio/video portion of this release they keep the goodies coming with the following extras the films original trailer and still gallery that includes candid behind the scenes photos and poster art. Other extras include a three page text piece entitled “I Love in fear” written by Chuck Stevens. This piece gives a nice condensed overview of the films of Seijun Suzuki as well as discusses the film Gate of Flesh. Rounding out the extras is main extra titled “From the Ruins” which is a twenty two minute interview with Seijun Suzuki and production designer Takeo Kimura. This is one the better interviews that I have seen with Suzuki to date and his colleague Takeo Kimura also has many wonderful stories to tell. Gate of Flesh is another powerful film from Seijun Suzuki as he explores the darker sides of life and human nature, Highly Recommended.