Breaking the Law

Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film

Starting in the late '50s, Japanese leisure-class audiences recovering from postwar devastation wanted fresh images and new genres, and filmmakers were happy to accommodate them. "Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film"documents some surprising trends in this area with a must-see minifest of five films, all in CinemaScope. An early entry is Kobayashi's 1962 Hara Kiri (Oct. 8), a wrenching attack on Japan's feudalistic groupthink disguised as a samurai revenge tale. The social critique continues in Masumura's masterful Hoodlum Soldier(1965; Oct. 22), in which Zatoichi superstar Shintaro Katsu plays a ya-kuza gambler who violently disrupts Japan's pre-World War II military machine. The film expertly juggles comedy, brutality, and pathos, with Katsu unforgettable in the title role.

Japanese prostitutes struggle to survive in an apocalyptic postwar Tokyo in Gate of Flesh
Japanese prostitutes struggle to survive in an apocalyptic postwar Tokyo in Gate of Flesh

On a less classical note is Seijun Suzuki's Gate of Flesh (1964; Oct. 29), which reimagines occupied Tokyo as a trash heap of whores, beggars, and horny American GIs. Garish images of a quartet of prostitutes ritually assaulting each other for the one unforgivable sin -- screwing for free -- must have startled audiences of the time, but by the next decade Norifumi Suzuki's School of the Holy Beasts (1974; Oct. 1) pulled us over the edge. In this feast for S/M lesbian nun aficionados, the Brides of Christ in the ill-named Sacred Heart Convent have little time for their devotions; they're too busy brawling, getting laid, and of course pushing each other into an acid bath conveniently hidden under a trap door. The series begins at 8 p.m. Friday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $3-6; call 978-ARTS.

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