Today I watched Seijun Suzuki’s Gate of Flesh (1964)
Gate of Flesh takes place in Tokyo immediately after the end of the second world war. It is a disturbing setting where everyone is scrounging just to get food on the table and violence is everywhere. Our main characters are a troupe of self governing prostitutes and a Japanese military returnee played by Joe Shishido, all trying to make their way while dodging the totalitarian control of American military police.
This film is a great example of how to build a strong setting in a film as the post war ruins are incredibly visceral. To get this effect with his low budget, Suzuki uses every trick in the book, recycling garbage from the studio backlots and using theatre set building techniques to bring everything to life. And that life is important as the post-war setting is more a main character than any of the individuals who populate it.
When Discussing Seijun Suzuki one has to address authorial intent. Suzuki has gone on record as saying that he simply went out of his way to make his studio movies entertaining. He claims that his visual flair and surreal story telling were simply tools to surprise and entertain the audience, but I don’t wholly buy that. Branded to Kill has so much detail pointing to a negative outlook of hubris while here the exploration of post-war Tokyo is rife with existential philosophizing and angst. Personally I feel it is the responsibility of critics and the audience to apply meaning to a work, the artist just makes it.
Suzuki’s surrealism is certainly here, but it takes a back seat to pure character interactions. Characters frequently have long conversations about their lives and how they feel, which is usually negative, and it all builds up this idea that not only is the city ruined, but so are the inhabitants. The emotive touches of style added here get us into the character’s minds very efficiently and when the inevitably tragic conclusion somes, it is all the more effective because of it. 5/5