Red Angel

It opens to the sounds of gunfire and images of war, the dead, nothing spared, a tone which continues throughout Yasuzo Masumura’s Red Angel (赤い天使, Akai Tenshi), adapted by Ryōzō Kasahara from the novel of the same name by Yorichika Arima depicting the remorseless brutality of the Second Sino-Japanese War from the perspective of the invading Japanese forces, specifically young army nurse Sakura Nishi.

Masumura a diverse director, the film reunited him with Ayako Wakao, the star of twenty of his films including A Wife Confesses and Irezumi, the latter released the same year as Red Angel, in fact Masamura’s third film of 1966, now released on Blu-ray by Arrow in their continuing exploration of his work and the back catalogue of Daiei Film.

Opening in the Tientsin Army Hospital in May 1939, Nurse Nishi attempts to do her best but finds the head nurse is unsympathetic, believing some patients may be faking their symptoms to avoid being sent back to active duty, but others see their fates as sealed, behaving little better than animals, assaulting Nishi with impunity.

Transferred to the front lines, the effort to save wounded soldiers is a waking nightmare, amputations performed with only local anaesthetic, medicine in short supply and blood transfusions available only for high-ranking officers, but despite Nishi finding herself in charge of her wounded rapist Private Sakamoto (Jôtarô Senba) begs for his life, refusing to have his death on her conscience.

A monstrous film of tragedy piled upon a hill of bodies, Nishi makes her decisions and follows them through with dignity and resolve, caring for the double amputee Private Orihara (Yûsuke Kawazu), ashamed to return home, and becoming closer to the morphine addicted Doctor Okabe (Shinsuke Ashida) who questions his purpose as a doctor when faced with the unspeakable, anything he can do never be enough to stop the river of blood.

With a commentary from David Desser, the new edition of Red Angel also features an introduction by Tony Rayns, appraising the film in the context of the increasing self-reflection of Japanese war cinema, and a video essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum considering Masamura’s extensive and variable output, naming A Wife Confesses as his masterpiece.

Red Angel will be released on Blu-ray by Arrow on Monday 17th January



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