Karayuki-san: The Making of a Prostitute

75 minutes 2013

Kikuyo Zendo, the subject of Shohei Imamura's funny, shocking, and seemingly effortless 1975 documentary, was one of thousands of impoverished Japanese women forced into prostitution and shuttled across southeast Asia in the early 20th century. The director clearly regards her story as a vehicle for numerous perennial themes: the resilience of women, sex as a function of capitalism, and the radical idea that the oppressed economic underclass are the most reliable commentators on Japanese history. Sort of a nonfiction follow-up to Imamura's narrative films The Insect Woman (1963) and Intentions of Murder (1964), this also looks forward to his 1987 period piece Zegen in its cynical portrait of Japanese imperialism, and Imamura's warm onscreen rapport with Zendo (whom he dotes on as if she were his own mother) anticipates the humanism of his late masterpieces The Eel (1997) and Dr. Akagi (1998). In Japanese with subtitles.

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