Monday, December 5, 2011
#299: Story of a Prostitute
Along with one of the films Suzuki made the following year, Fighting Elegy (as a contracted director at Nikkatsu, the director was extremely prolific), Story of a Prostitute represents in the Collection the more personal side of the director's work with the studio. Though its protagonist shares a profession with the main characters of Suzuki's Gate of Flesh made the previous year, Story of a Prostitute is a very different movie - more reminiscent of Harakiri or In the Realm of the Senses than any other Suzuki film in terms of anti-authoritarian themes.
But the style of the movie is classic Suzuki, incorporating a number of flashy techniques (choppy editing, freeze-frames, expressionistic lighting - at one point a character is literally broken into pieces as a visual manifestation of another character's feelings) in the service of a fairly conventional - if politically subversive - story. The doomed romance at the film's core is reminiscent of a whole host of films about unlikely love connections, making its impact somewhat muted. This is especially true because the film isn't really concerned with making any kind of grand statement either about prostitution or the war - something which probably wasn't a choice considering the limitations of the studio but nevertheless makes the film more subtle for better (i.e. it avoids preaching) or worse (i.e. it's a bit forgettable).
The story and Suzuki's modernistic flourishes aside, Story of a Prostitute is most appealing because of its cinematography. This is an extremely compelling black and white. While it is helped along by Suzuki's framings and editing selections, the film's lighting and finishing are simply beautiful - the scene of Harumi running across a battlefield has to be one of the most strikingly gorgeous shots in Suzuki's catalog, possibly all of Japanese cinema. It's this visual impressiveness that keeps the film appealing throughout its running time.