Suzuki dresses each of his heroines in clothing all of a particular color. One of the women wears red, the second yellow, the third green, and the other two purple and a black kimono. Although the five are sad, frequently brutal individuals, and their futures, despite their hopes, are certainly not filled with promise, their vibrantly colored garments stand out like exhilarating, enticing neon signs in the dark, ruinous world they inhabit. By contrasting the bright colors in which the women are dressed with the stark gloom that surrounds them, Suzuki is able to bring out and juxtapose the scraps of joy his protagonists experience with the profound sadness of their overall existence.
Being essentially an exploitation film, Gate of Flesh is filled with a variety of lurid incidents, but these all help to evoke the grim savagery of the characters' world. When, for example, one or another of the prostitutes violates the agreement the women have made, the others viciously beat and humiliate her. The scenes presenting such assaults are simultaneously brutal and infused with a leering, titillating quality that gives them an unsavoriness which, as nasty as it may be, is both genuinely fascinating and affecting.
What is more, even though all of the women are cruelly treated and exploited by the men with whom they interact, they have all imbibed values that keep them in their wretched state. Thus, while the man they take in and care for is hardly admirable, being tough, violent, and unsympathetic, all of the women are enamored of him because he possesses these very qualities. Such elements are effectively used throughout the film to manifest the inevitable sufferings its heroines endure.
The director arouses these feelings of tragic despair not only by showing how both the values of the society in which the women live as well as their own values ensure that they are victimized, but also by calling the viewer's attention to the various pitiable circumstances of his protagonists' lives. The sorrowful pasts of several of the women are, for example, briefly explored so that the viewer is made aware of the situations that brought them to such desperation that they have resorted to prostitution in order to survive. Ultimately, by making the factors restricting the women's lives obvious, Suzuki is able to engender in the viewer a profound sadness.
While Gate of Flesh is not quite a masterpiece, it is, nevertheless, a genuinely affecting and beautiful film.
Review by Keith Allen
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