Vintage Pulp Feb 28 2019
SHUNPU DEN OF INIQUITY
The winds of war blow hard and cruel over man and woman alike.


This striking pink poster was made to promote Shunpu den, known in English as Story of a Prostitute. Based on a novel by Taijiro Tamura, this is another of director Seijun Suzuki's envelope pushing dramas. He made a habit of disobeying the directives of his studio Nikkatsu and here he crafts a tale that refuses to simply extol the virtues and glories of the Japanese military. Plotwise, a woman falls in love with a lieutenant's lowly aide, and as the superior officer torments her, she and the subordinate embark on a forbidden affair. This occurs during the Sino-Japanese War circa 1935, and when the Chinese attack, the question of honor versus survival comes to the fore.

A lot of reviews call the lead character here, played by Yumiko Nogawa, a prostitute, but that's a simplification. She plays an ianfu or comfort woman, which was a form of sexual bondage usually reserved for foreigners. Ianfu were sent around to military garrisons to have sex with soldiers, and sometimes the ratio of women to men was very lopsided. We've seen 1:1000 cited, but can't confirm that independently. Lawsuits about this are still crawling through international courts. Japan's oldest English language newspaper The Japan Times recently was called out for acquiescing to Prime Minster Shinz┼Ź Abe's insistence that ianfu be referred to by terminology less embarrassing to Japan.

Westerners generally won't have all this history in mind when watching Shunpu den, but it's useful to consider. Nogawa's character Harumi is Japanese and a volunteer, so in both respects she's atypical compared to the reality of Korean, Indonesian, and Filipino women abducted by the tens of thousands. With this type of subtext to the backstory, and a foreground occupied by men indoctrinated into a military corps bound by an intractable and sometimes suicidal code of conduct, a happy ending seems like an impossibility. But you never know. However it turns out, the worth of dramatic cinema is in the trying. Shunpu den premiered in Japan today in 1965

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 25
1957—Ginsberg Poem Seized by Customs
On the basis of alleged obscenity, United States Customs officials seize 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" that had been shipped from a London printer. The poem contained mention of illegal drugs and explicitly referred to sexual practices. A subsequent obscenity trial was brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore, the poem's domestic publisher. Nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf, and Ferlinghetti won the case when a judge decided that the poem was of redeeming social importance.
1975—King Faisal Is Assassinated
King Faisal of Saudi Arabia dies after his nephew Prince Faisal Ibu Musaed shoots him during a royal audience. As King Faisal bent forward to kiss his nephew the Prince pulled out a pistol and shot him under the chin and through the ear. King Faisal died in the hospital after surgery. The prince is later beheaded in the public square in Riyadh.
March 24
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
March 23
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, dies of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
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