Flesh Pier (Japan, 1958) [Into the Shintoho Mind Warp]
Director Teruo Ishii, who is probably best known for The Horrors of Malformed Men (1969), shot the bulk of outdoor scenes of Flesh Pier in a guerilla style—no permits and on the fly. Taking place in the Ginza, Shinjuku and Akasaka districts of Tokyo, the film delves into the world of the flesh trade—pretty young models lured into the world of illegal prostitution. One of the biggest crime organizations involved in the flesh trade is run out of a nightclub called Arizona, which on the surface is a legitimate business. Yoshioka (Ken Utsui) is an undercover cop from Kobe, posing as a corrupt businessman looking for a piece of the action. His contact is a young dancer named Rumi (Yoko Mihara) who turns out to be Yoshioka’s lost love. While in the Arizona, Yoshioka spots a young woman he knows—reporter Haruko (Akemi Tsukushi) posing as a model because she smells a big story. A piano player and friend of Rumi’s Teruo (Teruo Hata), who is also in love with the beautiful dancer, spies the exchange of a note between Haruko and Yoshioka and reports back to Rumi. Still in love with Yoshioka, Rumi gives him the benefit of the doubt, but has Haruko confined to her room. Rumi devises a plan for the two to take over the prostitution ring, but the boss (Kenjiro Uemura) is suspicious and Rumi’s plan doesn’t work out as expected.
Ishii presents an unflinching look at Tokyo’s sex industry while giving a wink and a nod to acknowledging the “services” provided. It is a great storyline with plenty of lies and betrayal to go around. Probably best described as an erotic noir, Flesh Pier manages to be sexually charged without showing any sex. Ishii uses the promise of sex to suck the viewer in, with barely-clad dancers in beautiful displays of eroticism. Ishii turns you on (that wink and nod) and then gets you invested in the characters and what happens to them. The realization of the girls having effectively been kidnapped hits hard when we see them as prisoners in a ship’s hold, the truth of their situation just beginning to sink in for them. The boss is a classic villain, his own job security (and Rumi) the only thing on his mind. Rumi is really the central character here, being in high demand but wanting a better life for herself with the returning love of her life, who hasn’t been honest with her. It is classic exploitation—women trying to improve their lot in life being subjugated and treated badly at the hands of less-than-honorable men.
I loved Flesh Pier produced by legendary Shintoho Studios and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it on the big screen at the Japan Society during its New York premiere. It is a rare film that was shown as part of the Globus Film Series Into the Shintoho Mind Warp: Girls, Guns & Ghosts From the Second Age of Japanese Film, which was originally curated by film critic Mark Schilling for the 2010 Udine Far East Film Festival. I strongly encourage you to seek it out.