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Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Market Makes Whores of Us All: The Prostitute in Japanese Cinema

Seijun Suzuki's color coded prostitutes have a strict moral code that resembles the Pimp's Code of the West


The Market Makes Whores of Us All:
The Prostitute in Japanese Cinema

Double Suicide (1969) d. Masahiro Shinoda
The Life of Oharu (1952) d. Kenzo Mizoguchi
Gate of Flesh (1964) d. Seijun Suzuki


  You can't work with Artists and ignore the metaphor of Artist as prostitute in terms of their relationship with the larger cultural-industrial complex.  It is a well trodden Artistic theme since before culture WAS an industry, via the Romantic movement.  In Western Art frank depictions of the economic causes of prostitution are few and far between.  Instead, the emphasis up until today tends to be a religious/moral analysis often explicitly made in reference to Christian literature.

 However Japanese cinema, while often dealing with the feelings of personal shame experienced by prostitutes, lacks the Christian reference point that permeates Western Art, and allows Japanese films to more explicitly deal with the economic roots that lay behind most acts of prostitution.  This in turn allows the viewer to think about the larger idea of prostitution as a metaphor for the relationship that most have with economic necessity.  In other words, we all trade valuable part of ourselves in exchange for the economic necessities of existence, and compromising a personal code of values is often unavoidable.

   The economics of prostitution are in full display in Double Suicide, where the plot revolves around the attempt by the star-crossed male love to "free" the Prostitute by buying her.  In this film, his rivals are economically favored men who also want to buy the Prostitute in an effort to buy her love.  The title and ending of the film suggests a deeply fatalistic philosophy and the story itself clearly takes the stand that "resistance is futile."

  The Life of Oharu is closer to a Western style morality play, with a main character who declines and declines in a way that would be intimately familiar to any semi-literate Englishman of the 18th century via the widely disseminated prints of William Hogarth.   Oharu is, again, a tragic figure, but stripped of the prissy moral judgment of Christianity her plight takes on a more universal feel. Removing moral judgment from the equation allows the Viewer a closer level of sympathy with the prostitute, and again helps to draw out the ways in which we all compromise ourselves to survive: The prostitute as universal symbol of humanity.

  Gate of Flesh differs from The Life of Oharu and Double Suicide because it is a contemporary tale set in the aftermath of World War II, but the economic imperative behind the main group of prostitutes is made impossible to ignore.  They even have their own "code of conduct" which requires ALWAYS getting paid for sex, much in the same way we have the Pimp code of conduct in contemporary Western culture.  These prostitutes are moral agents, which is somewhat unexpected since Gate of Flesh in most other ways is what we call an "exploitation film" in terms of using brutality and sensationalism to excite the (limited) Audience.

 I feel like this frank depiction of the economic/universal qualities of prositution- and as a mirroring artistic theme- is still limited in the West, and the non-Western sources are a fertile place to find inspiration for fresh ways with developing "The Market Makes Whores of Us All" as a viable artistic theme.



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