Junichi Inoue’s “A Woman and War” – 2013 Japan Cuts Film Review

Brutally frank in its portrayal of rape, “A Woman and War” is not for those who are easily disturbed. A low budget and a 10-day shoot seemed to have left no money or time to show any sympathy for the film’s characters. In one blunt scene after another, and through the dialogue uttered by the movie’s nameless prostitute, the lives of three people slowly unravel as they attempt to deal with the consequences of World War II on Japan.

At first, the story of a soldier named Ohira (Jun Murakami) does not appear to have much in common with that of Nomura (Masatoshi Nagase), a curmudgeonly writer who takes a prostitute (Noriko Eguchi) into his home to play a crude game of husband and wife for the duration of the war. Ohira has been discharged from the army, but after he returns home, he finds that his missing right arm is not the only appendage that has failed him. Unable to stay erect during sex with his wife, he realizes that he is only turned on by abuse and rape, a sad result of his time fighting and pillaging in China. As a result, he begins to prey on local women to satisfy his desire by luring them into the woods with the promise of rice.

Nomura, however, does not have this problem. After getting “married,” he and the prostitute find slow pleasure in each other to make the days of war go by. Although she straightforwardly tells Nomura, “I will cheat on you,” he does not seem to care, and a deep affection grows between the pair despite their individual flaws. They inevitably separate after Japan’s surrender, but a chance encounter with a former neighbor leads the prostitute to seek out Nomura again. Finding him rendered helpless by drug use, she sets out to buy rice for him to eat and subsequently runs into Ohira.

What happens next feels like a quick ending to a film that took its time to graphically show Ohira’s descent into becoming a rapist. No detail has been spared in the horrifying scenes in which he lures women into secluded areas and proceeds to choke them into unconsciousness before having sex with them. Without a soundtrack, each gasp and cry is heard, each sickening thump and thud. The camera lingers as Ohira’s gaze does on his victims’ humiliation and state of exposure.

Despite these scenes and the controversial subject of Japan’s wartime crimes, director Junichi Inoue remarked in a post-screening Q&A session at New York City’s Japan Society on July 17 that the right-wing extremists in Japan have not even picked up on the film. He jokes that perhaps the run was so small (only 12 theaters in the country are currently showing it) that it simply went under the radar. He expressed that it was important to show how women were the “secondary victims” of the war, and despite the sensitive nature of the topic, he had a “moral right to direct these [rape] scenes as truthfully as possible.”

It is a shame that this film has not caught the attention of a wider audience because its treatment of the nameless prostitute is an interesting character study. While the character of Nomura is weakly developed, existing mainly as a counterpoint to Ohira, she is a surprisingly strong, outspoken presence in a film centered around one of the worst things that could happen to a woman. Although Eguchi does not carry off every scene flawlessly – her attempt at conveying the prostitute’s desire to have a normal relationship is awkward at best) – her delivery of her character’s black humor and boldness actually adds some light to this otherwise dark movie.

Video: “A Woman and War” Q&A with director Junichi Inoue – 2013 Japan Cuts

video by Angela K. Hom / Meniscus Magazine