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Story of a Prostitute (The Criterion Collection)

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Volunteering as a "comfort woman" on the Manchurian front, where she is expected to service hundreds of soldiers, Harumi (Yumiko Nogawa) is commandeered by the brutal Lieutenant Narita (Isao Tamagawa) but falls for the sensitive Mikami (Tamio Kawachi), Narita’s direct subordinate. In this tragic love story, director Seijun Suzuki delivers a rule-bending take on the popular Taijiro Tamura novel, challenging military and fraternal codes of honor, as seen through Harumi’s eyes.


Best known for his pop-art gangster epics like Tokyo Drifter and Pistol Opera, Japanese director Seijun Suzuki previously applied his startling camera angles, jolting editing, and hypnotic compositions to this military melodrama. Harumi (Yumiko Nogawa, who also starred in Suzuki's Gate of Flesh) is a ferociously independent prostitute who becomes a "comfort woman" for soldiers at the front of the Japan-China war in 1937. A brutal officer named Narita (Isao Tamagawa, later to appear in Suzuki's Branded to Kill) claims her for his use, but she falls in love with his passive, conflicted orderly Mikami (Tamio Kawaji, who also acted in Suzuki's Youth of the Beast--clearly, Suzuki liked his stars!). In this world, love is a few moments of ecstasy in an ocean of torment, and Suzuki cranks up both: During sex, Harumi curls her full, sensual lips into a violent grimace of pleasure; when Mikami kicks her away in his early attempts to resist her, Harumi's convulsions go into slow-motion while her crazed shrieks reverberate at regular speed on the soundtrack, lifting her agony to mythological heights. You know their affair will end badly, but Suzuki's feverish pitch compels you all the way down, and his emotional commitment gives Story of a Prostitute a very different feel from his more aloof and experimental gangster movies. The extras for this Criterion disk are few, but interviews with Suzuki, his production designer Takeo Kimura, and film critic Tadao Sato provide some valuable historical context and insight into Suzuki's directorial methods. --Bret Fetzer

Special Features

  • Exclusive new video interviews with director Seijun Suzuki, production designer Takeo Kimura, and film critic Tadao Sato
  • New essay by film critic David Chute
  • Original theatrical trailer

Product Details

  • Actors: Tamio Kawachi, Yumiko Nogawa, Isao Tamagawa, Shôichi Ozawa, Toshio Sugiyama
  • Directors: Seijun Suzuki
  • Writers: Hajime Takaiwa, Taijirô Tamura
  • Producers: Kaneo Iwai
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Closed-captioned, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: July 26, 2005
  • Run Time: 96 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0009HLCW4
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,328 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Story of a Prostitute (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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.
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If ever any additional proof was needed to cast Seijun Suzuki an absurdist beyond the brilliance of Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill, Story of A Prostitute would be the title to look for. A main effect of Suzuki's work here is that the absurdity is like a joke not necessarily leading to a conclusive or intriguing ending. The actions of his protagonists are inexplicably unpredictable considering the countless of reasonable options they have before them.

Pitting a philosophical and silent soldier, Mikami, against superiors who demand obedience and conformity, Suzuki guarantees a disaster around the unfair view of Japanese loyalty. Whether part of a samurai clan or a conventional army, the issue of loyalty as a way to instill an artificial sense of honor has been experimented by many directors. Suzuki introduces a welcome change in this theme by introducing a prostitute as a source of ill-will between Mikami, and his superior, the adjutant Narita. Unexpectedly, instead of fueling jealousy between the two military men, the culprit is prostitute, Harumi, who falls in love with Mikami despite being forced to please Narita every night. Angered by the little attention that Mikami often pays to her, she grants Narita ample suspicion that Mikami is fooling around with his prostitute during his "time" with her.

In its mere 90 minute run-time, the film tries to engage us in a romance, a debate on loyalty, and the nature of prostitution and of the "comfort woman." Suzuki is just not interested in spending time developing any of these aspects as that would make this work like any other drama. He goes for the unexpected and he delivers. Yet, his ending has a comical absurdity that is just not in tune with all the emotions that have been developed prior to the climax.
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Along with Rashomon, this film serves to propagandize against the victims of the Japanese invasions i.e. this film is about a VOLUNTARY Comfort Woman who lurves a Japanese soldier - YIKES. It was made by a Japanese war veteran. ;)

She only gets pseudo poked with a rifle when she dares to mention the Emperor so you see all those bayonet scars on the nonJapanese Comfort Women were a result of their taking God's name in vain. ;)

"Gee, I wonder if I can handle a 1000 men?"

"Look at us! We can do it!"

I'm gonna say this belongs in a boxed set with Germany's Titanic.

COINCIDENTALLY, Turner Classic Movies chose to air this right after a rare screening of Goddess.

Similar to the Battle Royale films, this film is very growly Japanese so you may want to lower the volume.
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