aka 黄線地帯 イエローライン aka Osen Chitai
Written and directed by Teruo Ishii
Teruo Ishii’s films have a unique quality is hard to describe without watching the films. There is a constant undercurrent of body obsession, with both body parts and with deformities or oddly shaped people. Many characters have scars, limps, or are just lit or made up to look more physically extreme than they are. Ishii’s films for Shintoho often feature underground prostitution rings, and are shot in realistic styles that border on documentarian at times (rumored to be to lessen influence from Shintoho’s boss Mitsugu Okura!) The Shintoho era films are less extreme than the ero guro work for Toei that would gain Ishii fame overseas, but you can see the roots beginning to take form. Some of Ishii’s more creative early work can be seen in the Super Giant films – or Starman as we know and love him in the States – (and also discussed in this Infernal Brains Podcast!)
Yellow Line is a noirish tale of suspense about gangsters, prostitutes, kidnappings, sex slavery, reporters, and saving the girl. In Yellow Line, every character has a quirk or mannerism – Emi giggles before everything she says, the reporter Mayama is constantly snapping his fingers, the Hitman grins a sickly toothy sneer. This adds to their characterizations and are slipped in naturally enough they don’t become distracting. Characters fall into their stereotypical roles, but remain distinctive enough that you remember aspects about them more than their allotted place in society.
Yellow Line was screened as part of the Shintoho retrospective that stopped by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and I had the pleasure of watching with both Todd from FourDK and duriandave from SoftFilm, making this a powerhouse of Bay Area obscure Asian cinema blogging.
The star of the film is the Kobe district referred to as Casbah, built up and teeming with all sorts of underworld dangers. The neighborhood is pulsatingly alive, with the sinister undercurrent where danger lurks not just in the shadows. The dense city is continually busy, most people are going on their own important business, the colorful characters who briefly interrupt are just a way of life.
The colors of the Casbah district are lit up with greens and red, which either due to the film stock or the ages of time makes the greens more ghastly. The colors are also an echo of stage shows, giving Casbah a spooky subtext. This is helped by some of the clubs, one of which has a prominent spider and web display for decoration. In Casbah, everyone who pays attention to you is either selling a form of contraband (drugs, name brand cigarettes, or flesh), enforcing their territory to sell their products, or a cop out looking to bust those selling. They might even be looking to sell you!
Yellow Line is one of several films that featured the Yellow Slavery concept, where kidnapped local Japanese girls were peddled to rich foreigners (or even just rich Japanese businessmen!) The concept fed on the nationalistic streak in Japanese audiences, and allowed for many risque images onscreen. It’s also an interesting parallel to the whole White Slavery concept in the West. Comparisons of the Yellow Slavery fears to the actual Japanese sex slavery industries both during the war and after are not addressed directly, though at least Yellow Line is not as obviously blind to history as Female Slave Ship, which featured a ship full of Japanese prostitutes being smuggled as sex slaves to the Chinese during World War 2! Talk about your historical revisionism! Granted, I don’t know how well known the war sex slave stories were in 1960, but I’m willing to bet some of the crew knew what the real deal was.
Yellow Line does feature foreign prostitutes, including a white actress painted dark brown playing “The Moor” – a famous female prostitute that the locals love. Her makeup makes her look more ridiculous than Tan Mom! The background is peppered with many Japanese extras painted up in brown paint, turbans, and beards, playing Middle Eastern residents of the Casbah district. There are plenty of home grown bad girls, so don’t think everyone is an innocent victim.
A Hitman (Shigeru Amachi) is hired to take someone out, and does so, but it’s a set up. He’s just killed the head port inspector and the police are buzzing mad. The Hitman’s plan to escape is by taking a hostage and heading out of town, as the cops are looking for a man by himself. He picks Emi (Yoko Mihara), a cute girl who is also leaving town to head to a job dancing for a company she barely remembers the name of. If you think that sounds suspicious, it is, but more later. Emi is dating a reporter named Mayama (Teruo Yoshida), who can smell a story a mile away, but is caught looking into the port inspector murder. Emi is no slouch in the brains department despite her giggles and dancing profession, she leaves a shoe behind at the train station (a gift from her boyfriend) as a sign, and later writes about her kidnapping on a 100 yen note. Unfortunately, the message is not found until it has changed hands a few times, ending up with office worker Yumiko (Mako Sanjo), who then is kidnapped herself by flesh peddlers! She drops the note again and it ends up in Mayama’s hands, who has already figured out everything is connected to the port inspector murderer.
Emi and the Hitman hole up in a ramshackle hotel, where the Hitman searches for the men who betrayed him so he can get revenge, and the hotel owner schemes to sell Emi off for cash. Mayama continues to close in, and the body count begins to rise. One the way, we get a closeup tour of the sex tourist world and the bizarre denizens who inhabit it.
Yellow Line is part of the Line (Chitai) series, which began with Secret White Line (Shirosen Himitsu Chitai – 1959), followed by Black Line (Kurosen Chitai – 1960), Yellow Line, Sexy Line (Sexy Chitai – 1961), and finally Fire Line (1961 – though helmed by a different director). The common theme is underground prostitution rings, and there is often a reporter character running around. I have not seen the other films to know how they compare, but they have now entered the short list. Yellow Line was part of a double feature with Revenge of the Pearl Queen, and was by far the superior of the two.
Rated 7/10 (Minya Time x7!!!)
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