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Japan, 1965 (MIFF 2000, Seijun Suzuki – Violence & Beauty)

Director: Seijun Suzuki

Some sequences in Story of a Prostitute are so achingly beautiful, they scar the mind. In fact, I would argue that Suzuki's most powerful films revolve around women. OK—so they re always prostitutes in one way or another, but a potent trait of Japanese cinema has been its portrayal of the geisha in modern guise, and along with Suzuki's own Gate of Flesh (1964), Story of a Prostitute is a landmark in psycho-sexual portraiture. But don't expect to tug your emotional crotch for any 'hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold' here. Story of a Prostitute is the anti-matter version of the moving yet comparatively cashmere Paradise Road. In place of a cathartic and healing resolution, Story of a Prostitute self-immolates in dramatic anguish like a scar inflamed by the heated knife which attempts to cauterise it. Its tragic story is set against the Manchurian War front of 1937 and centred around the splayed love expressed and commodified by 'comfort women' incarcerated in a hellish pornographic outpost for the Japanese military. Harumi—played with a mix of volatile hatred and impassioned desire by Yumiko Nogawa, star of Gate of Flesh—enters this inferno of bodily abjection with a will to disempower Man, and commits to this through a savage extinguishing of her own humanity. She crashes through love like Suzuki's Yakuza tear through the paper walls of their gambling dens. She swims in her saturated bed and imagines Man as a draining stream of faceless limbs. She lies with her unconscious lover in a bombarded trench and hears the quietude of a village near the ocean. The unexpected poetry and engulfing prose wilh which she is pictured, intoned and imagined will leave you hung dry and emptied. File with Vagabonde, Georgia, I Spit On Your Grave—but label Suzuki.

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