An ugly, gray horrors-of-war movie. The twist here is that instead of simply running through all the reasons why war is hell, this one brings sex into the picture – not just the usual love and desire stuff, but a variety of situations dealing with sexual need during wartime.
Our titular heroine (Nishi) is a nurse in an army hospital in 1939 during Japan’s war with China. She spends some of her time at a base hospital where men with illnesses and minor injuries rest up before they are sent home or back into combat, and the rest of her time at an understaffed camp hospital at the front dealing with a constant flow of critically wounded men, fatalities and amputations. She is raped by a soldier who is sent back into combat to his death as punishment. She sexually services a man who lost both arms and can’t take care of himself anymore (but he commits suicide soon afterwards). Then she ends up at the front in love with a morphine-addicted surgeon, in a platoon where the local “comfort women” are spreading cholera to the troops, but the troops keep visiting them anyway. Mishi manages to get Dr. Okagi off the morphine so he can make love to her, but the place is destroyed in a Chinese raid a few hours later, everyone killed but Nishi. She finds Okagi’s body on the ground. The end!
A pretty interesting movie, definitely not the kind of war film I’ve seen before. Compassionate, but also somewhat hopeless given the surroundings and situations. I liked it, but can’t say I’m itching to watch it again.
Nishi is played by Ayako Wakao, who starred in a bunch of Masumura’s films (Seisaku’s Wife, Manji, A Wife Confesses, A False Student, Afraid To Die) as well as Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame (played the money-lending girl who opens her own shop at the end) and A Geisha, Ozu’s Floating Weeds, and Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge. Dr. Okagi appeared in Suzuki’s Underworld Beauty. And the armless guy starred in Oshima’s Naked Youth.
“Roughly contemporary with M*A*S*H (as in Altmanâ€™s film, scenes of war-front surgery provide a corollary to Vietnam), it sometimes suggests a less comic treatment of the same theme–how to preserve one’s humanity amid impossible circumstances–but its ethics are considerably more developed.”
J. Sharp for Midnight Eye:
Made for Daiei Studios, Masumura’s stark wartime drama, an adaptation of a novel by Arima Yorichika, is one of the handful of films made in the mid 60s dealing with the personal experiences of those involved in the war, including the same director’s previous Hoodlum Soldier (Heitai Yakuza, 1965) and Seijun Suzuki’s Story of a Prostitute (Shunpuden, 1966). Both Masumura and Suzuki had been active towards the end of the war, and both used their experience to examine the conflicts and interpersonal dramas that arose on the frontline in order to question such concepts as duty and loyalty to their country. To this end both directors approach their subject using strong female protagonists whose role in the war is often forgotten, with Story of a Prostitute focusing on a group of prostitutes sent out to the frontline to service the soldiers, and Red Angel almost making analogous use of the nurses (although Masumura’s film does feature a group of prostitutes and takes pains to point out that the nurses duty is not the same as theirs!) In a world gone mad it is these female characters who provide the only source of stability and comfort, even morality, whilst the shell-shocked, emasculated walking wounded dream of returning home to their families.