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Karayuki-San, The Making of a Prostitute

Karayuki-San, The Making of a Prostitute

A film about another kind of "unreturned soldier" than Shohei Imamura has profiled elsewhere, Karayuki-San, The Making of a Prostitute finds the filmmaker interviewing Zendo Kikuyo, a former Karayuki-San. 74 years old at the time of filming, she offers a frank and harrowing testimony into her horrific sexual slavery and wartime experiences.

From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, Japanese girls and women were trafficked out of Japan and sent to foreign countries like China, Singapore, and beyond to serve as indentured prostitutes. These women were called Karayuki-san.

Shohei Imamura discusses this unfortunate history with Zendo Kikuyo and retraces Kikuyo’s steps as a 19-year-old girl who was tricked from her hometown in Japan and ended up in Malaysia. With Kikuyo, they revisit the docks where she landed and was transferred, her old brothel—Number 20 on Malay Street—and together they visit other former Karayuki-sans in their homes.

Before Japan outlawed prostitution, Karayuki-sans were actually considered “Japanese products at the front of Japan’s overseas development.” Taken advantage of and then met with discrimination, many Karayuki-san regard Japan with disdain and have no desire to return. But Kikuyo wonders about visiting Japan, and seeing her old home in Hiroshima. Will it be the same, or will she see that Japan has changed for the better?

"Perhaps the most brilliant and feeling of Imamura's fine documentaries."—Joan Mellen, THE WAVES AT GENJI'S DOOR

"Energized by the stoicism of its speaker, a woman coolly recalling her wartime sale to a brothel."—Time Out New York

"KARAYUKI-SAN, THE MAKING OF A PROSTITUTE might seem matter-of-fact, but it carefully builds to a concluding revelation. Sympathetic but unsentimental, Imamura lets the details speak for themselves."—Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal

"Imamura extends quiet patience towards his subject, encouraging her to reclaim the humanity that had been stolen in the wake of Japan's imperial hubris."—Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader


Main credits

Imamura, Sh̄ohei (interviewer)
Imamura, Sh̄ohei (film producer)
Imamura, Sh̄ohei (film director)

Other credits

Photographed by Masao Tochizawa; sound by Senichi Benitani.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Cultural Studies
East Asia
Women's Studies
World War II


Karayuki-San; Shohei Imamura; A Man Vanishes; Prostitution; Southeast Asia; Japan; Malaysia; comfort women; WWII; Shohei Imamura; Imamura; ; "Karayuki-San, The Making of a Prostitute"; Icarus Films; "Karayuki-San, The Making of a Prostitute"; Icarus Films,doc; history; sociss