Back in 1964, as it is still to this day, Japan has always rated their movies for two specific audiences only. In America, we rate movies, R, PG, PG-13, and even G (although, I don't think anything qualifies as G anymore). In Japan, it's either Adult or General Audience. This movie "Gate of Flesh" is definitely a Japanese Adult film. We get nudity, sex, fowl language, and even violent beatings and torture.
I love the raw, filthy extent of decadence that Seijun Sazuki has created for this film. Out of all the film's he's created, for some reason, he seems to be mildly ashamed of this one. He and production designer Takeo Kimura has created a cult classic of fabulous artistic visual achievement.
As you are aware, this film is about the life of prostitutes living within the war ravished ruins of the streets of Tokyo, just after the end of World War II. The main focus is on 5 Japanese girls. Prostitutes that work for themselves (no pimps), and share a burned out abandoned building, and live by certain set rules. They sell themselves on the streets and keep their money for themselves, however, if any of the girls give away sex for free, the other girls will tie her up and beat her senseless. All the girls are beautiful and yet their sweaty, filthy appearance actually contributes to what makes this film look so good.
What makes this film so beautiful to watch is how each of the girls wear a specific color of dress, which adds to the way the girls differ from each other, and although it was never initially intended, the Japanese audience actually created a personality perception based on colors, of the girls identified by the specific colors of how they were dressed. Here's the interpretations of how the girls are perceived:
Roko (Tamiko Ishaii) dressed in Yellow, is said to represent kindness and compromise.
Sen (Satoko Kasai) dressed in Red, is said to represent belonging or fear.
Maya (Yumiko Nogawa) dressed in Green, is said to represent peace and tranquility.
Mino, (Kayo Matsuo) dressed in Purple, is said to represent loneliness and anxiety.
Machiko (Misako Tominaga) dressed in White, isn't given a description of her persona, which is why they probably just had her dressed in white and used her as the fallen one who has broken their most enforced rule: giving it away for free. Machiko was married to a man who died in the war, so she, more or less, is just trying to find a new love. She sees a man on a regular basis and never takes any money. So eventually, she getsa caught by one of the other girls so they wait for her when she returns to them. She then gets stripped, tied-up, then beatened by the other girls just within inches of her life. To Japan, this must be acceptable behavior for prostitutes in Japan, and therefore, entertainment as well for the adult audience.
But, alas, a new obstacle enters the girl's domain. A runaway fugitive named Shin Ibuki (Jo Shishido), enters into the girls homestead and then begins to order the girls around. He's injured so he doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon and his aggressively mean demeanor is actually somewhat appealing to the girls.
The girls suddenly begin to have yearnings to be with Shin although they all know they must not break their most brutally enforced rule. Shin will not stay much longer, so Maya takes a chance at giving herself to Shin and hopes that he will take her with him when he leaves. She seduces him when he is drunk, and Sen catches her. Now, it's Maya's turn to be punished.
In the making of this film, you will see that Americans have set up a base right outside the city and they are always hitting on the prostitutes of Tokyo. You can tell, and Seijun Sazuki even admits, that he still had some bitterness and some hostility against Americans back then and so trying to work with some American actors, he had to fight with some of his own prejudices.
And here's something else that you don't see very often on film. No special effects done here. A cow is brought into the girls domain, struck on the head with an axe, killed, and gutted right there on the floor, in front of the girls, captured on film. Some people might be sensitive to seeing something like that.
So, to end this review, I will say that this film looks really good. The girls are beautiful and you can tell that this is a fabulous High-Definition transfer. Satoko Kasai (Sen) dressed in Red really looks very sharp and appealing to the eye, as all the girls do in their colors. If RED looks good on film, you know the rest of the film will look beautiful, too.
For as old as this film is, you would think they could always make films look better than they do. This film looks better than many newer films that come out on DVD today. Why is that? Do they save the better mastered copy so they can re-sell it again later? I think that's what's happening. I've bought many films on DVD, that I've re-purchased when they claim to have a "new digitally re-mastered" version. That's American commercialism for you. Give as little as you can, sell it, then beef it up, and resell it again.