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The Criterion Collection presents
Gate of Flesh (1964)

"What do you expect? I'm not some boiled potato."
- Komasa Sen (Satoko Kasai)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: October 07, 2005

Stars: Joe Shishido, Yumiko Nogawa, Satoko Kasai, Koji Wada
Other Stars: Tomiko Ishii, Kayo Matsuo, Misako Tominaga, Keisuke Noro, Chico Rolando
Director: Seijun Suzuki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, nudity, sexual situations, animal slaughter)
Run Time: 01h:30m:31s
Release Date: July 26, 2005
UPC: 037429205228
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ AAB+ B-

DVD Review

Japanese director Seijun Suzuki is behind some of the most memorable Japanese films of the 1960s; Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter are the perfect works to acclimate yourself with this master of the cinema. Watching those two back to back, along with his most recent work, Pistol Opera, will definitely open the eyes of those who think "J-horror" is what Japanese films are all about.

Gate of Flesh isn't as celebrated as Branded to Kill or Tokyo Drifter, but it certainly deserves the status of "classic" that those films have received over the years. While not as surreal and much more straight-forward than most of his other work, Gate of Flesh does have its share of abstract sequences. There are many religious themes at play here, with most of the main characters representing demons of the flesh while others have an angelic tone about them, especially when they are mistreated by the "devils."

Suzuki's themes are spelled out even more in that each of the four main prostitutes wears the same color of clothing throughout the film (the fifth, Machiko, is the outcast of the group, and wears black). The leader of the gang, Sen (Satoko Kasai), is clad all in red, her many tattoos branding her as tough and rugged. Sen rules this roost with an iron fist, lording over the sultry Mino (Kayo Matsuo), who wears purple; heavy-set Roku (Tomiko Ishii), always donning a yellow dress; and the newest member of the clan, Maya (Yumiko Nogawa), fittingly wearing green to symbolize her newness in the profession.

These ladies work in post-World War II Japan, maintaining an ultra-tight bond that includes a strict set of rules. Maya is recruited by Sen after a previous member has broken the key rule of sleeping with a man without making him pay for it, and is severely punished. While Maya is adjusting to the tricks of the trade, a thieving former soldier named Ibuki (Joe Shishida) enters the picture and is soon hiding from the authorities in the women's lair. In hiding him, none of them can deny that they are attracted to him, and none more so than Maya, who will risk the wrath of Sen in order to be with him and finally enjoy a life of happiness.

Suzuki really adds some great touches to this bleak tale, including a sequence featuring each of the four prostitutes set against an all green, yellow, purple, or red background, depending on the character. While this might seem truly out of left field, it is very effective, adding another layer to this tale.

For a film about prostitutes, the sex and nudity is kept to a minimum. We do see flashes of flesh and there are a few sex scenes, but nothing very graphic. This is where Suzuki catches us napping, though, as midway through the film, we do witness the graphic slaughter of a cow, including Ibuki's gutting it in order to cook it. There are other slick touches thrown in to effectively shock the audience, like the fate of a key religious figure and the appearance of a prophylactic in some food.

Gate of Flesh is the first film in Seijun Suzuki's "flesh trilogy," which also features Story of a Prostitute and Carmen from Kawachi. All of these films feature a Japan that is in flux, fresh from a devastating war that changed the nation. In Gate of Flesh, the presence of American GIs serves as a reminder of the war, and it isn't much of a surprise to see the Japanese women treating these men with disdain, many of them only taking clients that are of their own nationality, a practice unheard of in their profession. It's Suzuki's ability to balance so many themes in not only this, but in all of his films that makes him a director for the ages, a genius that rivals only Akira Kurosawa as the greatest Japanese filmmaker to ever step behind the camera.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This new 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a remarkable sight to behold. It's easy to forget that this film was shot in 1964, thanks to stunningly bright colors that really hammer home the point of Suzuki's use of pastels for each of the four main characters' clothing. The word "flesh" isn't in the film's title for no reason, and the fleshtones are as accurate as can be, with the incredible detail making each bead of sweat glisten on the bodies of these people in the hot Japanese weather. There's still a few specks of dirt, but the overwhelming clean-up job that's been done makes these hardly visible.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoJapaneseyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Japanese Mono track is dialogue-heavy, but there are quite a few distinct sounds, such as the consistent beating of a drum during the more surreal sequences that make the track seem more dynamic than it is or can be. Naozumi Yamamoto's music comes across well, also, never sounding crowded among the rest of the audio aspects.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. "From the Ruins" - New interview with director Seijun Suzuki and production designer Takeo Kimura.
  2. Stills Gallery
Extras Review: There are a couple of extra features here, including From the Ruins, a new, 21-minute interview with director Seijun Suzuki and production designer Takeo Kimura. This segment features a much older Suzuki, but he seems to remember almost every minute he spent making the film, telling numerous production stories that are very interesting.

The other extras are a stills gallery, the film's theatrical trailer, and a great insert with an essay by film critic Chuck Stephens.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A classic film that has criminally gone unseen by many, Gate of Flesh can now be enjoyed by film buffs everywhere, thanks to another impressive effort by The Criterion Collection. A stunning newly restored video transfer is accompanied by a remastered mono mix, and there are even a couple of extras including a new interview with director Seijun Suzuki.

 


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