review by Levan Tskhovrebadze

Japanese director Jiro Sato regains traditions of Japanese cinema in his second feature “Brothers in Brothel” narrating a hapless story of being trapped in the patriarchal entropy of prostitution. The story and atmosphere are as mystic and unusual as in Kenji Mizoguchi, and at the same time, the director manages to draw the portrait of disaffection in a dysfunctional family in Yasujiro Ozu’s style. The allegory of being isolated and exploited is everlasting so the brothel is a metaphor that can be customized on each hopelessly vulnerable group… still, the screen is shedding hope all over the audience.

Six people are living in a brothel located in an isolated island – Tokuta (Takayuki Yamada) and Ibuki (Riisa Naka) who are also siblings of the owner Tetsuo (characterized by the director himself) and four prostitutes. Because these people have never been out of the island, their beliefs about the world are so naïve that the audience feels that the prostitutes are actually virtuous. Tetsuo is the archetype of a tyrant patriarch who manipulates with a cliché of social respectability and family clarity and violates his siblings. Tokuta and Ibuki are the general formulae of oppressed people with the desire of emancipation while amusing characteristics of prostitutes make the storyline more light-hearted. 

Here, metaphor is conveying the auteur’s position where the key subjects are revealed in an Aesopian language. As the film opens, Tokuta is playing with an octopus, dubbing its intentions: Where the hell I am? I want to go back to the sea. Tokuta takes the octopus to the brothel and the animal is seen in a cross-cutting manner vocalizing the protagonist’s inner voice – visible enslavement of an octopus demonstrates his mental captivity. Even the director renders himself as a metaphor in “Brothers in Brothel” as he characterizes Tetsuo – monarch in a little institution – homage to Orson Welles incarnating straightforward villains in his films. With this act, Jiro Sato says the director is a sovereign in a film who can be embodied in each character, from boss to prostitute, and sometimes can hardly handle a situation.

Hajime Kanda (director of photography) paints a peaceful cinematic picture with a mystic warm light flickering on the character’s faces. This technique converts the image into a video-game look, making “Brothers in Brothel” more magical. The visual resemblance of flashbacks and the whole aesthetic is compositing the textile completely and designs an environment as the film is somebody’s dream. In one of the scenes, Ibuki and Tokuta are sitting on a beach where the palette on the frame is so minimalist that only shows few colors of a gloomy day but their faces are still shining while imitating their mother’s words: Make yourself a laugh… Laugh even when you can’t. 

“Brothers in Brothel” is a phantasmagoric reproduction of genres and images, revealing unpleasant rituals of prostitutes while articulating on eternal challenges of mankind as oppression, exploitation or tyrannical masculinity. However, it’s a brutal fairy tale that exhorts the audience to laugh even when they can’t.