Red Angel - Red Angel( Blu Ray) [Arrow Video - 2022]
From the late 1960s Red Angel is a terminal grim, yet starkly compelling Japanese war film- following the plight of a young nurse in the Sino-Japanese War of the 1930s. It blends troubling and bleak drama, harrowing hospital and front-line interactions, with moments of stark romance, grim sleaze and grittily jarring battle footage. Here from Arrow Video, both in the UK and stateside, here’s a new blu ray release of the film- taking in a commentary track, and a selection of other extras.
Red Angel ( aka Akai tenshi) appeared in the year 1966, it was released by Daiei Studios, and captured in stark black and white. The film was helmed by Yamanashi, Japan, born Yasuzô Masumura- who between the years 1957 and 1984 he calking up fifty-six feature-length credits to his name. These went from 50’s remising comedy-drama The Blue Sky Maiden (1957), capitalism satire Giants & Toys(1958), disturbingly edged gangster film Afraid To Die(1960), Kidnap drama come psychosexual horror Blind Beast (1969)- also released by Arrow Video, and crime drama Double Suicide of Sonezak(1978).
The film opens with credits taking in grim war photos and war sounds- when it begins we get a voice-over from Nurse Sakura Nishi(Ayako Wakao) as she details starting her career in a field hospital. As you can imagine it’s a decidedly desperate and hopeless facility, full of either mentally ill, trying to dodge going back to the front, and in terrible pain soldiers. Fairly soon after starting her post we see the young nurse being gang-raped by a group of patients. And in time she befriends an armless soldier, who asks her to pleasure him. She is told to go to an on the front line hospital- here she meets Dr Okabe(Shinsuke Ashida), a sweaty, moustached, and glum middle age surgeon who is largely amputating limbs to try cut off the disease and gangrene. In time Nurse Sakura starts falling for the Dr, as she spends her nights shooting him up morphine, as he’s addicted to the drug, and it has made him impotent. They ask the Dr to go on enemies lines village- Nurse Sakura going along with him, and here things get even grimmer with cases of cholera, and tense trying to rape soldiers.
Wakao is highly believable as caring trying to do her best up against the bleak odds nurse, Ashida is largely unstated- but again believable as the hope worn down doctor. The supporting cast is good too- with special mentions going to Ranko Akagi as the stern-yet-caring Head Nurse Iwashima, and Yûsuke Kawazu as Pvt. Orihara- the amputee who asks for Nurse Sakura to pleasure him.
It’s more than fair to say this is a very bleak and terminally grim wartime drama, with the glim flicker of hope coming from the romance between the doctor and the nurse. Along its length, we get troubling operation footage- where limbs are sawed off and bullets being pulled from painful twitching patients. There are grimy, sweaty and plied high wards that you can almost smell, and late jarringly exploding & stark battlefields. In theory, The Red Angel should be a bit too grim and troubling, though I found it oddly compelling and at times affecting film.
Moving onto this new Blu Ray, and we get a new HD transfer of the film- this is still very fittingly stark and murky in its look, though we do get a good balance in the black and white film stock, with clear subtitles. We get a new commentary track from Japanese cinema scholar David Desser, and this is a wonderfully researched & detailed track. He starts off by mentioning that this was the fifteenth collaboration between actress Ayako Wakao and director Yasuzô Masumura. He talks about the historic background to the first hospital Nurse Sakura goes to, discusses the use of voice over- which apparently is fairly rare in Japanese cinema. He chats about the masterful use of camera and shot set-ups, mentioning the skilful economy of the film's storytelling, He talks about its blend of sex and death, and that director Masumura severed in the army himself for eight years- pointing out elements in the film that illustrates this, for example, the grisly sounds of bone sawing. Later on, he discusses how the actually Sino-Japanese War played out, and details the use of comfort women( sex slaves) in the war - these apparently numbered 200,000- with many of the women being kidnapped from Korea. An excellent and densely packed track, which could easily be played several times.
Otherwise, on the extras front, we get an eleven-minute intro from Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns, and Not All Angels Have Wings, a new visual essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum which runs just shy of the fourteen-minute mark. The finished release features a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella, with the first pressing coming with an Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by Irene González-López.
Red Angel is a grimly compelling wartime drama, that really portrays the hell of war in an unflinching and grimy manner- yet there are flickers and darts of hope, and this is what keeps the viewer tuned in. It’s great to see Arrow Video continuing their release schedule of Japanese film- and I’d say if you either enjoy well-acted yet grim drama or bleak studies of war- this is a must-buy release!.Roger Batty