Zegen (1987)

Iheiji Muraoka (Ken Ogata) had plans to be a shopkeeper. However, as he begins to learn that the Japanese armed forces will soon advance across Asia, he instead goes into business as a brothel owner. After all, an army moves on its stomach, but it often stays ready to fight based on its desire.

This is one of Shôhei Imamura’s later movies, but still rich with the black humor and desire to explore the hidden castes and stories of Japan.

Muraoka became Zegen, quite literally the most powerful seller of women in modern Japanese history, known as “The Boss of the South Seas.” Yet beyond the monetary and carnal rewards of this vice, he saw the business of turning out women as an almost patriotic duty.

At the close of this film, as the Japanese forces return to Malaysia, Muraoka rushes to greet them, seeing them as the children of the men that he had worked with to keep Japan strong. He is shoved down by a commanding officer who does not even recognize the old man’s attempts at speaking Japanese. In the end, despite his fanatic devotion and the ruin of so many lives, he himself has been rendered meaningless.

Zegen is one of the three films on Arrow Films’ new Survivor Ballads: Three Films By Shohei Imamura set. I’ve learned something new from each of these movies as we covered them this week and this set has my complete seal of approval. You can get yours from MVD.

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