Joy Girls | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Though known outside Japan mainly for his deliriously inventive gangster pictures, Seijun Suzuki also ventured, with no less passion and an equally bold style, into literary adaptation and melodrama. Joy Girls is from a trilogy he made at the end of his studio days (1956-'67) that puts prostitutes center stage, mixing the Freudian notions of Eros and Thanatos. Played with breathless intensity and frankness by Yumiko Nogawa, postwar Japan's most daring actress, the main character of Joy Girls is a prostitute, Harumi, who volunteers to serve garrisons of soldiers and officers fighting Chinese insurgents in Manchuria during the last days of World War II. While there she falls in love with a straight-arrow corporal, but seems more enraptured by the purity of her infatuation than the subject of it. In sympathy with leftist intellectuals of his generation, most of whom fought in the war and eventually turned against the ideology of its leaders, Suzuki uses Harumi's tragic yet heroic end as an opportunity to slam the military. But Harumi's courage in fighting against male domination and debilitating cynicism--conveyed with emotional intensity in a neorealist yet at times starkly theatrical style--puts Joy Girls in the tradition of Mizoguchi's empathic portrayals of fate-tempting, oppressed women. What emerges here is an exhilaratingly romantic tale of liberation and redemption. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, August 18, 7:45, and Sunday, August 20, 4:15, 443-3737.

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