During the 1930s, a teenager yearns for a Catholic girl, whose only desire is to reform his sinful tendencies. Hormones raging, the young man channels his unsatisfied lust into the only outlet available: savage, crazed violence.
Police detective Tajima, tasked with tracking down stolen firearms, turns an underworld grudge into a blood-bath. Suzuki transforms a colorful pot-boiler into an on-target send-up of cultural colonialism and post-war greed.
Most likely the closest Suzuki ever got to making a prestige film. It probably wasn't viewed as such at the time, as it was a remake of a movie called Escape at Dawn that was generally considered a classic at the time (it was scripted by Akira Kurosawa and directed by Senkichi Taniguchi in 1950). Story of a Prostitute seemed like a much more lurid version of the older film. Both were anti-war pictures, but Escape at Dawn was romantic and tragic. Story of a Prostitute is harsh and cynical. Its scenes are often comic, which clashes with the standard view of war. In an interview on the new Criterion disc, Suzuki, a veteran himself, says that he found a lot of black humor and absurdity in his wartime experience. All three of WWII-themed films I've seen from him, which cover the pre-war (Fighting Elegy), the actual war (Story of a Prostitute), and post-war (Gate of Flesh) periods all incorporate some level of absurd, black comedy. The three films actually make a good trilogy (the rest I've seen are all yakuza or crime films). Story of a Prostitute is a very powerful anti-war film, though it is lurid and not nearly as powerful as something like, say, Kobayashi's The Human Condition. Yumiko Nogawa, who also starred in Gate of Flesh, gives a fantastic performance. But it is, as usual, Suzuki's supreme visual skills in black and white in this instance that make the film a stunning and memorable experience. His artistic imagination in cinematographic matters is nearly unsurpassed in the entire realm of cinema.
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