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October 18, 2006

Red Angel


Akai Tenshi
Yasuzo Masumura - 1966
Fantoma Region 1 DVD

One of my favorite actresses is Ayako Wakao. While it's not received that attention of other new DVD releases, I had to give priority to this film by Yasuzo Masumura. Wakao can be seen to better advantage in Masumura's Manji, Kon Ichikawa's An Actor's Revenge and Kenji Mizoguchi's Street of Shame. In Red Angel, Wakao is primarily filmed in medium and full shots, often in shadow.

Red Angel works primarily as a showcase for Masumura's themes, or perhaps, fetishes. Wakao plays a military nurse with Japan's army, sent to China in 1939. Making her rounds late at night, Wakao is raped by one of the patients while others watch. From the military hospital, Wakao is sent to a field hospital. Treatment primarily consists of the amputation of arms and legs. While there's none of the gushing blood of M*A*S*H, the sounds of legs sawed off and the crunching of bones is cringe inducing. Wakao falls in love with a morphine addicted Army doctor, and also provides sexual relief for an armless soldier.

Wakao also thinks herself responsible for the deaths of the three men, as well as a nurse who she broght with her to the field hospital. Masumura's films, based on the few I've been able to see, have been about the irrationality of love. Death is likewise presented as having no logic with soldiers dying from disease if not bullets. One of the officers describes soldiers as not humans but weapons. Masumura shows war as reducing everything and everyone to commodities. Soldiers are reduced to missing body parts, at the end of a major battle Wakao discovers the dead stripped of all clothing and weapons. Wakao is valued, or perhaps more correctly, devalued, as an object for sexual release. There are no conventional scenes of sex which is in keeping with the exploration of lesbianism in Manji, or the focusing on women as a collection of parts in Blind Beast.

The film's anti-war stance is clear when the armless soldiers discusses how another double amputee was institutionalized to avoid letting the Japanese citizens know how terrible war is. Masumura's critical eye extends to the blind patriotism is his characters, with the nurses taking up arms in a hopeless battle. For Masumura, war is hell, but being a survivor is of no comfort.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 18, 2006 02:50 PM