Gate of Flesh Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ November 11, 2013
Heralded as one of the first in a strain of sadomasochistic films to come from Japan, 'Gate of Flesh' (1964) is renowned director Seijun Suzuki's strange cross-breed of exploitation and art-house. The story follows a group of prostitutes living in a burnt out house in post World War II Tokyo. This merciless group operate on a simple set of rules: no free sex (which is synonymous with love) and anyone who breaks this rule is to be tortured and left for dead, no exceptions. When an ex-corporal called Shintaro Ibuki (Jo Shishido) arrives however the group is sent into disarray as they become more and more enamoured with him. Affected most by this arrival is nineteen-year-old emotionally dead Maya (Yumiko Nogawa), who falls in love with Ibuki and begins to see him as the brother she lost in the war.

Gate of Flesh is a film about carnal desires and the inter-changeability of pleasure and pain, the films title itself is used multiple times in the script to represent passing through the realm of sex for money and achieving something you're willing to die for, love. This is not to say however that the film is empowering towards the idea of love, if anything the harpy like group of protagonists see it as a sign weakness, punishing those who give in. It is in this sense that 'Gate of Flesh' makes its most interesting comments about the way in which men use women and the price of living "are we eating to sell our bodies or are we selling our bodies to eat? - and either way, what are we living for?"

In a cinematography sense the film is very surrealistic, superimposed faces appear and disappear and at one point the face of a red demon (a representation of Maya's longing for pain) is seen sprouting from the top of Ibuki's head. One of the most notable instances of said surrealism however is when the film briefly cuts away from the back alleys of Tokyo and each of the four prostitutes appear against a background that matches their colour coded dresses, saying a sentence about the way they're feeling, it's as equally bizarre as it is beautiful.

The film is clearly anti-American and Suzuki has no hesitation when he comes to showing the negative effects of the occupation of Japan and the subsequent democracy. In many ways Gate of Flesh is about transformation, much like the traditional Geisha-style O-Machi is strung up and destroyed, so to is the old vision of Japan by America.

Verdict: Extremely shocking for it's time and equally as challenging, Gate of Flesh is a must see for those interested in Japanese cinema.
sanjurosamurai
Super Reviewer
½ July 14, 2009
"are we eating to sell our bodies or are we selling our bodies to eat? - and either way, what are we living for?" this quote from one of the lead characters sums up the film well. an engaging and tragic story of postwar life in japan centers around a cast full of very unlikeable characters. suzuki's use of color in the film is the standout, but the pacing and the gritty nature of the film also shine in this effective if not slightly over the top tale. a very good film that sets the stage for a progression in the stylisitc appraoch of suzuki.
Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
½ February 9, 2009
[font=Century Gothic]"Gate of Flesh" is set in Tokyo just after the end of World War II. Sen(Satoko Kasai) recruits the starving 18-year old Maya(Yumiko Nogawa) into her gang of prostitutes whose headquarters is in the remnants of a bombed out building. They seem nice enough and look out for each other but there is one rule they must never break: no freebies. So, things get complicated when Shintaro(Jo Shishido), a returning soldier who recently has been busy robbing an American Px and stabbing an MP, shows up on their doorstep.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]"Gate of Flesh" is a raucous, wild, risque and downright kinky view of a society that is one step away from collapsing totally. Any authority is corrupt including the American MP's which means the gangsters are really in charge with all the power that matters. Considering how men have so badly screwed up the world, then it should come as no surprise that Sen's gang is going to want to have nothing to do with men except as a source of income.[/font]
Super Reviewer
June 9, 2014
Awesome and yards ahead of it's time, Gate of Flesh lets all the ugliness of the post war period in Japan come to bare. Desperation leads to violence, sex and personal destruction.
½ August 10, 2008
Okay, this is my second time reviewing this movie, but let's see if it goes through this time.

I haven't really seen a ton of Suzuki films. I've seen the ones available on Criterion and it seems like he has two very separate hats. He's got the struggle of the woman hat and he's got the yakuza hat. But they both deal with a very similar theme.

The big thing is to look at Japan in terms of honor and tradition. Yeah, who am I to talk about something like that? But everything I see about Japan is about pre-war and post-war. Pre-war is similar to empirical England. There is a right and honorable tradition. Following World War II, there's almost a savagery to the culture. It is a mix between the treatment of a post-atomic civilization and a fear of death and a complete restructuring of day to day life. Both the women tales and the yakuza tales deal with this savagery. In the case of the women, the savagery is obvious. It is a world where survival is most important and friendship is simply a luxury that gets in the way of staying alive. The yakuza tales deal with a similar nature. It is attempting to put order to disorder. It is a new society and makes savagery, in a distrubing way, organized.

This is an absolutely fantastic movie. This is brutality with a paintbrush. I use that term because this movie is practically painted. There's a bit of surrealism when it comes to the way it is shot. The film itself is very grounded and character driven. But there's some decisions that Suzuki made that were clearly aesthetic and extremely affective. I do love how he paints his characters with a very speciific color. Now, Suzuki isn't the first one to devise a color scheme for his characters, but usually these performances and characters are very stereotypical and superficial. But these characters exist in their colors. Heck, down to their underwear they live that color. This may sound perverted, but this movie is a movie that deals with sex. It may not be about sex, but sex is definitely part of this world.

There's one scene in particular that really catches my eye. There is a scene where the story stops and all of the prostitutes voice their opinions on the new man who lives with them. Each of these girls pretty much breaks the fourth wall and lives in a world of their color. It's a very cool visual. But throughout the movie are scenes like this, placing characters side-by-side despite the fact that they are looking at each other. It's that kind of stuff that really blows you away.

The story itself is pretty heart-wrenching. People beat each other and innocence is considered weakness. The movie starts out seeming like the innocent girl is the main character, but it evolves. There's this great mirroring that Suzuki does that allows for the transformation of the main character to happen. We see her go through the whole realm of emotions before her eventual change, making that change more even more important.

This, I have to say, is a brutal movie. There is very little that is comfortable about this film. I mentioned that sex is an important aspect of this movie, but this movie is far from sexy. This is sex as power and control. This is sex as survival. Keeping this in mind, you should watch this and be ready for a truly viceral experience.
Super Reviewer
½ November 11, 2013
Heralded as one of the first in a strain of sadomasochistic films to come from Japan, 'Gate of Flesh' (1964) is renowned director Seijun Suzuki's strange cross-breed of exploitation and art-house. The story follows a group of prostitutes living in a burnt out house in post World War II Tokyo. This merciless group operate on a simple set of rules: no free sex (which is synonymous with love) and anyone who breaks this rule is to be tortured and left for dead, no exceptions. When an ex-corporal called Shintaro Ibuki (Jo Shishido) arrives however the group is sent into disarray as they become more and more enamoured with him. Affected most by this arrival is nineteen-year-old emotionally dead Maya (Yumiko Nogawa), who falls in love with Ibuki and begins to see him as the brother she lost in the war.

Gate of Flesh is a film about carnal desires and the inter-changeability of pleasure and pain, the films title itself is used multiple times in the script to represent passing through the realm of sex for money and achieving something you're willing to die for, love. This is not to say however that the film is empowering towards the idea of love, if anything the harpy like group of protagonists see it as a sign weakness, punishing those who give in. It is in this sense that 'Gate of Flesh' makes its most interesting comments about the way in which men use women and the price of living "are we eating to sell our bodies or are we selling our bodies to eat? - and either way, what are we living for?"

In a cinematography sense the film is very surrealistic, superimposed faces appear and disappear and at one point the face of a red demon (a representation of Maya's longing for pain) is seen sprouting from the top of Ibuki's head. One of the most notable instances of said surrealism however is when the film briefly cuts away from the back alleys of Tokyo and each of the four prostitutes appear against a background that matches their colour coded dresses, saying a sentence about the way they're feeling, it's as equally bizarre as it is beautiful.

The film is clearly anti-American and Suzuki has no hesitation when he comes to showing the negative effects of the occupation of Japan and the subsequent democracy. In many ways Gate of Flesh is about transformation, much like the traditional Geisha-style O-Machi is strung up and destroyed, so to is the old vision of Japan by America.

Verdict: Extremely shocking for it's time and equally as challenging, Gate of Flesh is a must see for those interested in Japanese cinema.
Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
½ February 9, 2009
[font=Century Gothic]"Gate of Flesh" is set in Tokyo just after the end of World War II. Sen(Satoko Kasai) recruits the starving 18-year old Maya(Yumiko Nogawa) into her gang of prostitutes whose headquarters is in the remnants of a bombed out building. They seem nice enough and look out for each other but there is one rule they must never break: no freebies. So, things get complicated when Shintaro(Jo Shishido), a returning soldier who recently has been busy robbing an American Px and stabbing an MP, shows up on their doorstep.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]"Gate of Flesh" is a raucous, wild, risque and downright kinky view of a society that is one step away from collapsing totally. Any authority is corrupt including the American MP's which means the gangsters are really in charge with all the power that matters. Considering how men have so badly screwed up the world, then it should come as no surprise that Sen's gang is going to want to have nothing to do with men except as a source of income.[/font]
November 5, 2008
Okay, not [i]all[/i] flesh. As with any other post-war movie worth its salt, there is also trading in penicillin. Mostly, though, there are the women--and the stolen cow. The girls themselves note that the price per pound of beef is the same as they charge for an encounter. It's pretty grim stuff, really. However, trading in penicillin is trading in flesh of a kind--not because the drug itself is flesh, but because it is a device for making flesh healthy. It saves lives, which is a kind of trading for the same commodity as the women and the cow-thief. Each set of traders, too, has a set of rules. The penalties are harsh if and when the rules are violated, but they'd been made clear at the beginning.

Maya (Yumiko Nogawa) was raped by American soldiers in the wake of World War II. Desperate and alone, she goes to Tokyo, where no one will know her. She falls in with a band of young prostitutes, who take her in and make her one of them. She knows the rules--no pimps, no outsiders, and no giving it away. If any of the group has sex without taking payment, the others fall on her. They beat her, humiliate her, cut off her hair, and cast her out. Maya sees this happen; she knows it will happen to her if she fails them. And then, Shin (Jo Shishido) walks into their lives. He has killed an American serviceman, holds a consignment of stolen penicillin, and ends up seeking the protection of the girls.

What is most striking about the film, I think, is its use of colour. The streets are desolate. Drab. Everything is in shades of brown and grey. Walking through this are the prostitutes, each in her own glowing colour. The sole exception is Machiko (Misako Tominaga), who wears black--and does not dress in the flashy Western way of the others. She still wishes for a traditional life, despite the desperation that makes her sell her body alongside the others. One suspects that she services a different sort of clientele, the kind who longs for the old days before the war, not the younger, more grasping kind that goes for the others. And, of course, Machiko falls in love.

The girls are all seeking something, I think. Most seek independence, freedom, a way out from under the thumb of men. Hence the "no pimps" policy--and, I think, the "don't give it away" policy as well. However, Maya seeks to forget and Machiko seeks to find anew. Machiko, we learn, was married once. Presumably her husband, like so many other Japanese men of the time, was killed in the war. Maya seeks to start anew with Shin, with a life that is completely separated from her old one. She wants to forget her rape. I think it also has its roots in the "no Americans" policy--the women are all under the thumb of America; the whole country is. And this in a world where a woman and a pound of beef will cost the same.

Japanese post-war cinema is a curious thing. It is a struggle between the Westernizing influences and the desire to hold on to the past. The whole of the culture seems to be as torn as Maya. The women cling desperately to their nonchalance, their false gaiety. They flaunt their bright colours--red, green, purple, yellow--and cling to their own rules so that the rules of others will not touch them. This is the same culture of cinema that was bringing up Kurosawa to his greatest work. This film is much more obscure--[i]I'd[/i] never heard of it--but it is a good example of its type.
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