Suzaki Paradise. January 30, 2020

This film is a wonderful depiction of a crucial time in Japan’s recent history. In 1956, when this movie was released, Japan declared the end of the postwar period and made prostitution illegal. That’s not what we see in Suzaki Paradise: we see poor people barely scraping by, in a neighborhood where there’s lots of prostitution right across the bridge.

Given the subject matter you might expect some heavy political content, but actually the story and the characters are treated with remarkable levity. In fact if you remove the historical context there’s no politics at all. At the core you have a couple, nearly out of money and not knowing what to do. By chance they end up at right outside the red light district of Suzaki and start looking for work. The woman, Tsutae, used to be a prostitute but is looking for honest work, while the man, Yoshiji, is a bit aimless and nihilistic. Unfortunately for their relationship, Tsutae ends up meeting a wealthy man and running off with him.

Eventually Yoshiji goes to the neighborhood where the wealthy man works (the electronic mecca of Akihabara), but he’s completely lost: while in Suzaki he’d have gotten some help to find him (you really feel like he knows everyone there, even though he only arrived a few days ago), nobody in Akihabara knows the wealthy man or seems willing to help. I like the contrast between the two characters: the wealthy man feels very comfortable in Suzaki (his wallet makes it easy for everyone to like him), but Yoshiji is completely out of place in Akihabara.