I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of Red Angel, a 1966 Japanese war film told from the perspective of a dedicated young military nurse. Directed by Yasuzo Masumura (Giants and Toys, Blind Beast), Red Angel may be artistically shot in black-and-white, but the film is grounded by the realism in its depiction of the effects of war. Although there are scenes of military warfare, the action at the center of the film is primarily concerned with the violence of medical operations carried out on the frontline. The other aspect of the film is much more psychologically driven, centering on the impact wartime has on the sexual drives of doomed soldiers.
The film follows the somewhat unreliable narrator Sakura Nishi (Ayako Wakao), a nurse sent to a field hospital in Tientsin during the Second Sino-Japanese War. China may have been the enemy of Japan during this war, but Nishi encounters more villains from her own side of the conflict, beginning with an assault by a wounded soldier at the hospital. Despite being the victim, Nishi often holds herself responsible for the death of those she encounters. In reality, Nishi is a selfless individual who often sacrifices herself to care for the soldiers and doctors around her.
During her visits to the frontline, Nishi encounters Dr. Okabe (Shinsuke Ashida), a surgeon burned out by the endless death surrounding them. After agreeing to do a favor Nishi, the two develop an unusual relationship. During their time together, Nishi discovers the doctor is addicted to morphine, and sets out to save him as well.
Red Angel examines the effects of wartime drama on men, through the lens of Nishi’s selfless behavior. Soldiers certain they are going to die abandon all civilized behavior, often treating the nearby women as nothing more than objects to be used. Surprisingly, Nishi often accepts this reality, even initiating a few encounters she believes will be beneficial to the traumatized men. The themes presented are complex and without clear resolution. One things is clear by the end of the movie; war is hell, and not just for the soldiers.
The Arrow Video release of Red Angel gives the film every bit of love this underrated classic deserves, presented in 1080p with the original uncompressed Japanese mono audio. Along with the pristine presentation of the movie itself, the disc comes with several new special features.
-Brand new audio commentary by Japanese cinema scholar David Desser
-Newly filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns
-Not All Angels Have Wings, a new visual essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum
-Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
-Booklet insert, featuring an essay on the film by Irene González-López, Yasuzo Masumura’s filmography, info on the transfer, the cast and crew list, and several striking still images from the movie.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 8/10
Special Features: 7/10