Yumiko Nogawa, one of Suzuki’s favorite actresses, gives perhaps her most ferocious performance in this scathing portrayal of Japanese militarism during the lead-up to World War II. Sent with six other comfort women to service a garrison of some 1,000 men in Manchuria during the Sino-Japanese War, Nogawa’s Harumi is brutalized by a vicious lieutenant who wants her as his personal property. Meanwhile, she is falling in love with his gentle young assistant. The Taijiro Tamura novel on which the film is based was previously made into a much-sanitized film (with an Akira Kurosawa script) called Escape at Dawn (1950). Working in the B-movie arena allowed Suzuki to use the sex and violence expected from the genre to advance the view he shared with Tamura: “that the sex-drive is a crucial part of the human will to live” (Tony Rayns). “This is the movie that proves Suzuki should be lifted out of the limiting category of the Asia Extreme cult directors, the ‘Japanese Outlaw Masters,’ and placed at the grown-ups’ table, alongside Kurosawa, Okamoto, and Kobayashi” (David Chute, Criterion Current). Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
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