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Film / Sandakan No. 8

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Sandakan No. 8 is a 1974 film from Japan directed by Kei Kumai.

It is about the tragic life of a woman sold into sex slavery. In the present day, a journalist named Keiko is doing research on Japanese women forced into prostitution in the early decades of the 20th century. By chance she runs into an old lady, Osaki, who was sold to a pimp by her family in 1905. Osaki's story unfolds in a series of extended flashbacks. She was sent to a brothel in Sandakan in British North Borneo (now Malaysia), and, after a couple of years working as a maid, was forced into service as a "karayuki-san", namely, a Japanese prostitute working outside of Japan. Osaki suffers through a quarter-century of exploitation and misery, before finally returning home to Japan, only to find that the victims of sex trafficking are not welcome in their homeland.

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Tropes:

  • Anorgasmia: Osaki says she's never gotten a climax from a man, although given her history, it's not hard to see why.
  • Attempted Rape: A gross pervert of a peddler who caught Keiko having a pee outside (Osaki's crude shack does not have a toilet) later sneaks into said shack and tries to rape her. After the two women chase him off, Osaki starts telling her story.
  • Does Not Like Men: "Men are all pigs," says Osaki, and it's hard to blame her. Besides all the men who exploited her and violated her, both her brother and her son disowned her. (The man who married Osaki after she escaped prostitution isn't really discussed.)
  • Fan Disservice: All the nude scenes with young Osaki in her life of exploitation and misery.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The bell in the local Christian church starts tolling as Osaki and two other village girls are taken down to the beach and the boat that will take them away.
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  • Framing Device: The gentle inquiries of Keiko the reporter lead Osaki to tell her sad, depressing story.
  • Gilligan Cut: A very depressing one. Poor little Osaki, having finally been told that she is to be pressed into service as a maid, starts screaming that she won't do it. Tarozo the pimp starts slapping her, and they go off-camera. Cut to a weeping Osaki being led to the room where she will first service a john.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: A dazed Osaki wanders out half-naked into the pouring rain after her life in prostitution begins with a rape by her first customer.
  • Indentured Servitude: How Tarozo the pimp justifies keeping the girls in sex slavery, by claiming they owe him money for transit and room and board.
  • Lady Drunk: Osaki near the end of her time in Borneo, as shown when she gets drunk at a party at the brothel, makes some bitter comments, and then passes out on the beach.
  • Miss Kitty: Okiku, a veteran prostitute who eventually comes into ownership of the brothel after Tarozo dies. She doesn't find honest work for the girls or anything, but she does treat them with dignity and respect. She also spends her own money on a cemetery for the karayuki-san, which she herself is eventually buried in.
  • Monochrome Past: Everything's green for the brief flashback which shows that brothel #8 was destroyed and everyone in it was killed in an American bombing raid.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: The one man Osaki ever fell in love with, a farm laborer named Hideo, comes to see her one night after a Japanese Navy ship has pulled in and Osaki has had to have sex with a few dozen sailors. She can't look him in the eye, and he leaves, never to see him again. An odd example, since he knew she was a prostitute already.
  • Narrator: Keiko for the 1974 scenes and Osaki for the flashbacks in which she is recounting her story.
  • The Place: A sad brothel in Borneo.
  • Red Light District: So many brothels that they're all numbered. Osaki's is 8th out of ten.
  • Revealing Hug: Just in case anyone's wondering if Osaki derived any pleasure from her work, there's a shot of her face set into a grim mask during a montage of sex with johns. This is followed by her saying she's never gotten an orgasm from a man.
  • Sex Slave: What the prostitutes of Sandakan are, smuggled in under false pretenses, then not allowed to leave.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Two different actresses play young Osaki the prostitute, and old Osaki a good 40 years later.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: After coming home in 1931 Osaki says that it's been ten years. According to the times we're given onscreen, it's been 24 years, since she was taken away in 1907.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Osaki's depressing return home after many years in Borneo. Her brother, who loved her once and wept when she was taken away, now regards her as an embarrassment. She goes back to Borneo and back into the life. Many years after that, when she comes home as a widow after the war, she's still a social pariah.
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