Prostitute is, yes, a story about a military prostitute (or "comfort woman") at a Japanese encampment who has the great misfortune to be the favored leisure lady of a sadistic local adjutant. Though she frequently fantasizes about ripping him to shreds-- literally, in a Michel Gondry-esque sequence that sees him as a floating paper doll torn in half--Harumi doesn't give into despair or drug abuse like some of her co-workers but rests her hopes in a love affair with his meek assistant, Mikami. They manage to keep their liaisons hush-hush until Mikami is captured by the Chinese, at which point she prevents him from killing himself, apparently the expected Japanese custom in such a predicament.
After he's returned and court-martialed by his own troops and she's returned to the brothel, Harumi continues to "keep hope alive," fighting the good fight with a force of will far superior to that of any of the guys in uniform. Suzuki has made a film about a comfort woman, true, but also a strong woman (definitely the strongest in any of his movies I've seen). It's too bad she attaches her future (and, literally, herself in a tragic climax) to a man who's her inferior in almost every sense.
Though Suzuki reverts to black and white (probably by budgetary decree) for this one, there is style here to burn--no Technicolor required. Sumptuous slow-slow motion sequences abound. Stark desert framings pop. Tumultuous tracking shots (like the one above) astonish.
"Oh, Michiko, I will not masturbate.
I fight to sublimate my desires."
Did I say both of these flicks were uncharacteristically serious? OK, I may have overstated just a tad. Fighting Elegy, filmed a year later, definitely boasts its fair share of absurdist humor. Any movie about a teenager so desperate to resist the temptation to flog the bishop that he routinely engages in playground warfare (and, later, actual warfare) to tamp it down can't be but so poker-faced. It's not American Pie exactly (or Nippon Pie?), but there were a few scenes where I felt like I might be watching Seijun Suzuki's Stripes. Playing "Chopsticks" on a piano with your unzipped pee-pee? Engaging in rapid-fire haiku to drown out the image of your naked girlfriend? Yes, Fighting Elegy features both.
Actually, Catholic military school cadet Kiroku's boner-suppressing antics and latent brutality reminded me a lot of another ultraviolent fascist-in-training to come several years later. I'm talking Kubrick's Alex DeLarge. Extreme sexual repression as fervent militaristic motivator..check and check. The difference here is it's mostly self-imposed. Though Kiroku isn't forced by scientists to wear eye clamps and gag while watching snuff films, his severely regimented schooling definitely has a blunting effect that similarly backfires on his superiors/captors later on.
Though the lifeblood of Elegy is scathing anti-war satire, Suzuki does manage to innovate in other more visual ways. There's a great sequence in a school room where the cadets' call-and-response chant with their instructor reaches such a fever pitch that the screen itself begins to break apart, Suzuki flagging/eclipsing portions of the frame in time to the recitation. And, speaking of barriers, there's the perfect close-up of Kiroku and his lady love puncturing a partition screen (below) to touch hands before parting for good. Sadly for this young pent-up soldier, it's the most "action" he's likely to see anytime soon, apart from the battlefield.