A Visually Complex Tale of a Woman's Role in a Patriarchal W
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 09/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Historically, women have had to find a way to live in the patriarchal societies throughout the world, as their destinies most often involved marriage. Marriage offered safety, social acceptance, and the basic needs for a woman, as the man was the breadwinner. On occasion, some women sought anew destiny, less accepted and much more dangerous, as they had to find a way to make a living by themselves. However, in a world governed by men the women discovered the difficulty of solitude away from the men who did not want to pay for a woman's labor. Thus, many of these adventures women ended up in the world's oldest profession - prostitution. This was a profession frowned upon by married women who perceived these professional women as a threat to their very existence while the men continued to disrespect these women. Seijun Suzuki tells his version of a woman choosing her own path in Story of A Prostitute where the female protagonist, Harumi (Yumiko Nogawa), escapes criminal conviction to a remote province occupied by the Japanese.
The wind is pulling Harumi's hair while she stares into her uncertain future. Aimlessly she begins to wander downhill of a remote desert mountain. Emptiness and loneliness are the first two things that strike the audience when observing Harumi walking straight into the desert. The eerie score enhances the despair and desperate feelings that Harumi must experience. This symbolical opening presents the idea of her isolation within the society and the hopelessness of her situation. However, halfway down the mountain she trips, stands up, and as if she has been reborn, she turns around and walks back into the civilization. Before she returns to civilization, she glances back into her past to what brought her to this point in her life, as the audience will discover that the man she loved is marrying another woman. Vindictively she injured the man and now she must escape the possibility of prison and seek a new opportunity, as a pleasure girl on the Manchurian front.
Regardless of the dangers and lurking death that corner the path of being a prostitute serving the Japanese occupation forces, Harumi walks fearlessly into the mouth of the dragon. Her courage might stem from knowing that she does not have many other choices in life and must make the most of this situation, or maybe, it is the recent heartache that sets off her recklessness. Whatever the reason, Harumi understands that she cannot return to her previous life, as it would most likely end her life the way she knows it. Thus, she enters a war zone where a highly motivated resistance force does anything to defy the Japanese military.
The soldiers quickly discover Harumi's arrival in the provincial village where the military has its headquarters. It obvious that the brothel in which she is to work serves the function of a sanitarium that helps to heal broken minds and spirits for yearning soldiers. Being a newcomer to the brothel serves like a fresh wind in a hot and humid summer day, when a simple breeze delivers a refreshing moment. The men are many while there are only a few women present to provide a quick moment of emotional relief. The women are the only source for a brief moment of humanity while the merciless Japanese war machine indoctrinates inhumanity to the soldiers. Like dogs, the soldiers obey their superiors, as fear controls the lot of them. However, there are a few outsiders who question the leadership's philosophy while a handful obedient serve their masters. Harumi serves no one, but herself. However, she discovers that she cannot escape the long arm of males even in this desolate village in the far Manchuria.
The soldiers lives becomes an analogy for a woman's existence, as the officers command the soldiers the way men tend to command the women. Through Lieutenant Narita (Isao Tamagawa) the oppression becomes very real, as he breaks whatever resistance he might encounter with his utter control and overwhelming brutality. Harumi finds herself being in the path of Narita who in their first encounter begins to command her existence after having legally raped her. The sadistic Narita cleary seeks to destroy her spirit and make her his own finger-puppet. Harumi's hatred for him begins to simmer to boiling point, but helplessly she discovers that she cannot touch Narita without harming herself.
In time of desperation, Harumi meets Private Mikami (Tamio Kawachi) who turns into her knight in shining armor. First, it seems like she attempts to plot a deceitful plan where Mikami would turn on Lieutenant Narita. However, it is a fruitless plan, as Mikami honorably does anything to regain his lost position within the officers. In the process, Harumi finds herself falling in love with Mikami who desires nothing else than fit into the Japanese military machine. Like a lapdog, Mikami, obeys every move and word of Narita, as he is put to the most demeaning tasks. Soon the audience realizes that the relationship between Harumi and Mikami is doomed from the first moment. A quagmire of emotional and social predicaments worsens the situation, but still Harumi tries to convince him to escape elsewhere for a new beginning.
The socioeconomic, political, and emotional complexity within the film stirs a heavy dose of visual artistry into the cinematic blend. Cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka's keen eye for visual symbolism enhances the scenes together with Seijun Suzuki's brilliant direction. Not to forget, the editing of Story of a Prostitute is nothing short of perfection, as Akira Suzuki applies his final touch of cinematic magic that will help deliver an amazing tale of a woman's struggle. The social issues intelligently weave together into a personal and communal narrative that slowly generates a life of their own. This is a life that provides a powerful awakening, as it nourishes introspective contemplation and a profound examination of the patriarchal society. The intricacies between man and woman emerge, as the state forcefully oppresses its barriers on those who resist. The oppression within the story leaves the viewer with an unforgettable cinematic experience in an economical, political, historical, social, and psychological perspective."
We Could Leave Together
Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 09/05/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
After her lover abandons her, the prostitute Harumi heads north from Tianjin to offer her services to the Imperial Japanese Army. One of thirteen women serving an entire battalion, With the soldiers literally lined up outside the door, Harumi services common soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and officers with the first coming at one, the second at four, and the third at eight. As soon as one man finishes another one is there to take his place. One prostitute estimated that there were some one hundred soldiers for every woman. However, this is what Harumi desires. She wants to sleep with as many men as possible in order to forget her former lover.
Yet, after she becomes the unwilling mistress of Lt. Narita, Harumi desires to escape not so much from the life of a prostitute, but from the violently possessive officer. It is with this desire in mind that she pursues Cpl. Mikami a quiet man who does all in his power to be the epitome of a good Japanese soldier while serving Lt. Narita, but receives only torment from his superior. Unwilling at first, Mikami eventually begins a clandestine affair with Harumi, however, he feels guilty because he believes that he has betrayed his commanding officer. Harumi on the other hand feels that she has found the man who might rescue her from Lt. Narita, but can she truly depend on a man who willingly allows himself to be beaten and humiliated because of military decorum?
Although I enjoyed some of Suzuki's other films more than Story of a Prostitute, such as Gate of Flesh and Fighting Elegy, this film should be viewed by individuals who want to see the day to day life of the prostitutes who served the Japanese Army. The number of men they had to service each day is staggering. However, although they have to bend before the will of the army, the women are depicted as strong individuals who sometimes refuse to have intercourse with certain soldiers. Therefore the story of the prostitutes is not so much tragic but more as a tale of strength. A pretty good film by Suzuki, but if you get the chance, watch Gate of Flesh instead.