B&W, 1966, 94 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by Yasuzô Masumura
Starring Ayako Wakao, Shinsuke Ashida, Yûsuke Kawazu, Ranko Akagi, Jôtarô Senba
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Fantoma (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Yume (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Continuing its roster of Blu-ray Red Angelreleases dedicated to the Red AngelDaiei output of director Yasuzô Masumura (Giants and Toys, Blind Beast, Black Test Car), Arrow Video delivers one of his most effective and harrowing films with this unflinching war film that wouldn't be equaled in graphic intensity for Western audiences for another few years. Essentially a nurse's-eye view of the brutal effects of combat including more severed limbs than you could possibly count, it's a haunting and often beautifully shot portrayal of hell on earth from a director who had witness it himself in real life.

Orphaned as a child, 24-year-old army nurse Sakura Nishi heads from Japan to China in 1939 to work at a military hospital. Assigned to a combination of mental and tuberculosis patients, she's cautioned about men who will feign chronic illness to avoid going back to the front lines. After being sexually assaulted by the arrogant Japanese soldier Sakamoto (Senba), she gets a change of locale to the front lines herself at a hospital where countless limbs seem to get severed every day under the supervision of morphine-addicted Dr. Okabe (Ashida). There she collides with a number of moral conflicts after encountering a bloodily wounded Sakamoto, and as she grows emotionally closer to Okabe, they find the horrors around them perhaps too big an obstacle to overcome and she finds her own "red angel" presence serving as a healer of a harbinger of death.

Red AngelA complicated film to unpack even today, Red Angel strays far from the traditional portrayal of Florence Nightingale-style Red Angelcaregivers seen in Hollywood films to that point. This one treads far closer to horror film territory with its depictions of medical personnel rapidly deciding who lives, who dies, and who keeps their appendages in a hospital that often looks more like a bloody butcher shop. The Nishi character is especially fascinating as she traverses a mostly male environment where the human libido often manifests in ways the screen normally didn't depict, such as an armless patient who begs for a helping hand. The sexual content here isn't remotely as candid as the violence, but the film still tackles its issues in a candid nature including the impotence of Okabe's character, whose drug usage has left him unwilling to inflict the same state on the soldiers being dropped in front of him.

Barely seen outside of Japan at the time and only given a limited number of screenings by Daiei in the U.S. in the early '70s, Red Angel hit DVD from Fantama in 2006 alongside a number of other Masumura films, a major component in exposing a larger number of English-speaking viewers to his work. The transfer was very good for the time, and the disc featured a trailer, a photo gallery, and a Masumura bio and filmography. A nearly simultaneous DVD was also issued in the U.K., and after that it went out of circulation for a long time until the 2021 Arrow edition for the U.S. and U.K. The transfer is about on par with the previous Masumura upgrades: finer film grain, better detail, rich blacks, and marginally less peripheral image info without upsetting anything composition-wise. The LPCM Japanese 1.0 mono track (with Red Angeloptional English subtitles) sounds very good, given that the original mix is fairly thin in the first place. Film scholar David Red AngelDesser provides a thorough new audio commentary covering all the bases including Daiei, Masamura's own service in the military, the state of Japanese cinema at the time, the actors' backgrounds, and more. Tony Rayns provides another of his enthusiastic video introductions (11m59s) offering his own take on the film's place in the Masamura canon, its unusual status as a war film and connection to other Japanese films of the era, and his thoughts on how to interpret the title. In the video essay "Not All Angels Have Wings" (13m51s), Jonathan Rosenbaum talks about this film's impact on his fascination with Masumura, analogies to Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One, his distaste for a few of the director's other films (and his ranking of A Wife Confesses as the best), and the reason you almost never see close-ups of the main actors in his films. Be warned that he trashes the Hanzo the Razor series here, so take it all with a grain of salt! Also included are two Japanese trailers (with English subtitles) and a nine-image gallery of stills and promotional material, plus reversible sleeve art (with new art by Tony Stella) and, in the first pressing, an insert booklet with an essay by Irene González-López.



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Reviewed on January 23, 2022