Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute (1971) review

Introduction

Masao Adachi, also known as Izuru Deguchi, Deru Deguchi, De Deguchi, or Yoshiaki Ôtani, might be the most successful radical left-wing political director/screenwriter Japanese cinema has ever known. His oeuvre has, despite being mainly made in the 60’s and 70’s, has not lost any of its relevance. Third Window Films’ release of Adachi’s Gushing Prayer (PINK FILMS VOL 1 & 2) forms a fabulous basis for the spectator to start one’s exploration of his oeuvre.  

Third Windows Films

Review

After hours of erotic foreplay between Yasuko (Aki Sasaki), Koichi (Hiroshi Saito), and Bill (Yûji Aoki), Koichi suddenly scolds her for having indulged in sexual intercourse with her teacher. Koichi wants to punish her, but Bill urges him to stop because Yasuko’s pregnant.

Her sexual excursion, her act of having prostituted herself is nevertheless felt by the others – especially by Yoichi (Makiko Kim) and Koichi – as a form of betrayal, a betrayal of having supposedly succumbed to the mere pleasures of sex. But, as Yasuko recounts, her sexual encounter with her client made her feel something. Moreover, she had the feeling of having sold something, not knowing what she sold. Not long after her confession, her friends urge her to become a real prostitute in order to find out if sex(ual pleasure) can be beaten or not.

Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute (1971) by Masao Adachi

Gushing Prayer, also called the most cryptic pink film made by Masao Adachi, will puzzle many spectators and critics, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. With his cerebral narrative, Adachi urges the adult spectator to find, for themselves, what these teenagers lack.

The meaning of Adachi’s Gushing Prayer, i.e the meaning of Yasuko’s search as well as the dimension of social criticism this search stages, should be sought in the poetic contrast between the in-narrative dialogues and the suicide notes that are (non-diegetically) narrated throughout the narrative.

Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute (1971) by Masao Adachi

The essential thing this contrast teaches us is that Yasuko and the others are not seeking (phallic) enjoyment, they are not seeking sexual liberation or complete satiation. There is in their search a radical split between sexual enjoyment, i.e. feeling sex with one’s body, and desire. Their search to feel something is, in other words, a search for (feeling) desire? Not only a sexual desire, but a desire – a dream – that would give direction/meaning to their human life.

The search to realize oneself as a desiring being is, as is made evident in the very beginning of Gushing Prayer, marked by a sense of urgency. Finding desire or remaining non-desiring, a matter of life or death, a matter of being able to stay alive or being driven to commit suicide. Various suicide notes point to nothing other than the ravage the lack of desire, the lack of the desire to desire, causes.

Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute (1971) by Masao Adachi

Society is, just like in Go, Go, Second Time Virgin which was scripted by Adachi, revealed as failing the youth. While in Go, Go, Second Time Virgin society was revealed as failing to curb the excess of enjoyment, Adachi reveals society in this narrative as failing to engender desire. If, as Lacan says, the desire of man is the desire of the Other, Adachi shows that the Other is impotent and unable to give youth their desire. The true trauma of the failure of the Japanese student movements of the 1960s concerns the destruction of the leftist desire by the Other, filled with enjoyment but devoid of such desire. 

The societal Other that problematizes the youth’s desire does thrive on enjoyment – ‘Enjoy!’ – as Koichi’s mother shows and the opportunistic men buying Yasuko. Put in this way, the attempt of Yasuko to beat sex, i.e. to go beyond sexual satisfaction, needs to be read as an attempt to escape the imperative of enjoyment that marks the neoliberal capitalist society, an attempt to evade the satisfaction the capitalistic Other asks. Put differently, Yasuko attempts to convert the absence of pleasure as caused by this cruel imperative into an emptiness that gives rise to desire.

Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute (1971) by Masao Adachi

Due to the continued focus on motherhood – Will Yasuko be able assume a desiring position as mother? – Adachi’s Gushing Prayer should, when all is said and done, be read as his idealistic plea for young people to find desire in engendering a new generation, to find desire in becoming another Other (i.e. a different father or mother) that enables his/her offspring to find their own desire.    

With Gushing Prayer, Adachi shows that, beyond any cinematographical roughness (e.g. the jerkiness of the camera movement) whatsoever, he has an artistic sense of composition. He utilizes the versatility of the body, i.e. its angles, and the geometry of interiors/exteriors in such a way that his composition becomes a mesmerizing formalistic poem. The alteration of black and white shots, colour shots, and various colour overlays (e.g. orange) also fit within this formalistic approach.  

Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute (1971) by Masao Adachi

Adachi’s formalistic poem succeeds in communicating the desperate urgency youth feel. This success is not only due to this rough visual poetry but also due to the acting performances, especially the performance of Aki Sasaki, who plays Yasuko. It is especially by her performance, so poetic at the level of the word and the act, that the urgency to find a desire and the demoralization by failing to find a desire can be so sensible felt.  

With Gushing Prayer, Masao Adachi has delivered a mesmerizing poetic narrative about lost desire and the desperate urgency to re-find one’s desire. Adachi’s extremely moving formal poetry is, of course, highly political. Not only does he frame the societal Other as the cause of the lost state of youth and the youth’s suicidal response, but Adachi also formulates, in a truly confronting way, his hope for this lost youth to find desire in creating a different Other for tomorrow.    

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