if you take an international cinema class at college, the instructor is going to program one of the movies of Akira Kurosawa. If they want to give the nation focus a second night, they’ll let you see a film by Yasujiro Ozu. They might talk about the movies of Takashi Miike or Seijun Suzuki. They probably will not mention Yasuzo Masumura. This isn’t really the teacher’s fault since Masumura’s movies weren’t readily available on video in America. Over the last few years, Arrow Video has been making a case that Masumura’s name deserves to get mentioned with them in conversations. The recent releases of Giants And Toys, Irezumi, The Black Report, Black Test Car and Blind Beast has shown him to be a top tier director as he delved into the shadows of Japanese culture. Even though I’d already considered him a top tier director, Red Angel is a masterpiece. This is an extreme war movie from the perspective of nurse who doesn’t experience the nobility of battle.
Sakura Nishi (Irezumi‘s Ayako Wakao) is a nurse arriving in China to work at a medical hospital near the front lines of the Second Sino-Japanese war. This medical unit is basically a butcher shop as wounded Japanese soldiers arrive off the battlefield to have arms and legs amputated. The hospital is a brutal place. During her time in one ward, Nishi finds herself assaulted by the patients. The punishment for one soldier is sending him back to the front line. He arrives back at the hospital ready to sliced up to be saved. Even though he attacked her, Nishi is willing to beg the head surgeon Doctor Okabe (Underworld Beauty‘s Shinsuke Ashida) to go beyond the normal help given to enlisted soldiers. She is a very compassionate nurse who goes beyond for patients. During her nighttime round, she gets extremely involved with an armless soldier who needs to feel like a man, but needs her hands to help. She later takes the guy to a hotel for an intimate moment except it doesn’t turn out so well for her. Things get even rougher for the nurse when she agrees to go with Dr. Okabe to the front line. While you thought humanity was rough in the hospital, the Japanese soldiers on the front are even worse. Even though a prostitute is dealing with cholera and the soldiers don’t think that’s a good reason to avoid her bed. While she loves Dr. Okabe, he a serious problem between rounds of sawing off limbs. Is Nishi going to survive the war?
While it would be easy to call Red Angel the Japanese version of M*A*S*H*, there’s no real similarities between the two. Robert Altman gave us a comedy about the horrors of war. There are humorous moments in the movie about a military hospital during the Korean war. There’s pure bleakness in Masumura’s vision of war in Red Angel. Even when there’s a little moment of humanity and relief, it gets immediately stomped out. Masumura shot the film in black and white. This is best since if he’d used color stock in the camera, the screen would be bathed in red like a Hammer horror. The surgery room features a barrel of limbs, bodies pile up outside the operating room and everyone is covered in blood. This is not for the squeamish especially for a movie going audience in 1966. Nothing in this film is for the squeamish. You’re going to feel it from the visuals or Nishi’s plight. She does want to help people heal in her role as a nurse whether it be soldiers or the doctor. Red Angel has her trying her hardest to find good as things get bleaker and bleaker in the battlezone. Yasuzo Masumura was a cinematic master and Red Angel is a stunning masterpiece.
Video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer really brings out the shadows in the black and white imagery. The audio is the original mono track in Japanese. The sound is clear. The movie is subtitled in English.
Audio commentary by Japanese cinema scholar David Desser goes deep into the director’s work. He points out that little is known of Yasuzo Masumura’s military service outside of his return to Japan was 2 years after surrender. Desser believes many of the little touches came from the director’s experiences.
Introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns (11:59) gives a bit of context. This was a busy time as Masamura made three films for the studio that year. Rayns has never found a copy of the novel which Red Angel was adapted from. He talks about other Japanese war films from the era.
Not All Angels Have Wings (13:51) is a visual essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum. In the late ’90s, he was able to go to Japan to see Masamura’s films that hadn’t made it to America. He feels the director’s best films were made in the ’60s. He relates the Japanese director to the legendary Sam Fuller.
Original Trailers include a tease (1:18) and the full trailer (2:19). It lets you know that this isn’t the usual war film with the nurse having to fight off the patients.
Image Gallery has 6 black and white stills, a poster and a press kit.
Arrow Video presents Red Angel. Directed by Yasuzo Masumura. Screenplay by Ryozo Kasahara. Starring Ayako Wakao, Shinsuke Ashida, Yûsuke Kawazu, Ranko Akagi, Jôtarô Senba and Daihachi Kita. Running Time: 95 minutes. Rated: Unrated. Release Date: January 18, 2022.