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Yoshiwara

Crowd at the entrance of Metropolis' Yoshiwara nightclub, exiting at the instigation of the evil Maria.

The Yoshiwara of Thea von Harbou's novel Metropolis was a nightclub run by September, a man of unidentified Asian extraction. It was here that Georgy was tempted and fell under the spell of the drug Maohee. As a result he failed to meet up with Freder and Josephat and help them in their quest to locate Maria. For this he eventually died, taking a knife to the heart that was meant for Freder.

The Yoshiwara of Fritz Lang's film was the embodiment of von Harbou's text, with input from the design team working on the film. The result was a series of sets aiming to convey the atmosphere of a modern Berlin nightclub, with ornate oriental features and an entrance suggestive of the pleasure to be had inside. Unfortunately, views of Fritz Lang's Yoshiwara were largely excised from prints of the film following the initial Berlin screening, and have only been seen recently as a result of the 2008 discovery. Some views survive in still photographs, suggesting the extent of the location's use in filming. In one such photograph, an exterior shot of Yoshiwara is seen, with crowds running down the stairs. In another photograph, we see Freder walking forlornly down the stairs early in the morning, after a night of partying. He had gone to the club seeking out Georgy. In a third there is a discussion with a character who may represent September. Film of some of these scenes is now available, though any of Georgy in Yoshiwara does not survive.

Freder walking dejectedly down the stairs of Yoshiwara, early morning, with a cleaner to the left of him sweeping the stairs.


Yoshiwara was also the scene of much activity and 'depravity' by the evil form of Maria - the transformed robot. It was here that she drove men crazy with lust. Once again, many of the original scenes involving the evil Maria and crowd in Yoshiwara were censored out of post-Berlin versions of the film, and have only recently been seen in the South American print.

The original Yoshiwara was the red-light district of Tokyo, Japan. It was formally created in 1617 by Ieyasu, first of the Tokugawa shoguns. Following earthquakes and fires, it moved in 1657 to near the Asakusa temple and survived in that location until 1959. Within its walls were legalised brothels, bath-houses, entertainment venues and premises where geisha would perform their rituals. For some 250 years Japan was closed to the outside world, however after 1853 the Americans opened the country up to trade and visitation. Sailors naturally gravitated towards the Yoshiwara precinct, and stories of its delights began to appear in the foreign press. From that time pornographic woodblock prints known as shunga also began to circulate in Europe, and the Metropolis design team would have been aware of this. Lang and Harbou were also collectors of Asiatic art.

Fritz Lang claimed that at one point he visited Japan. This most likely occurred between 1911-3 when he travelled the world, visiting North Africa, Turkey, Asia Minor, and Bali. At the time he worked as a travel artist, painting postcards, travel scenes, and advertisements. As a result of these experiences, he developed a passion for oriental folk and culture, and some of this was reflected in his films, e.g. the Yoshiwara facade was possibly one of his touches. The character of September and the experiences caused by the drug Maohee were perhaps based on events in Lang's own life during these travels.

Bibliography

De Becker, J.E., The Nightless, City, or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukawku. By an English Student of Sociology, Z.P. Maruya & Co., Yokohama, 1899, 8vo, 442p; ibid., 2nd revised edition, Max Nossler & Co., Shanghai, Yokohama, Bremen; Probsthain & Co., London, 1905, 386p; ibid., 3rd revised edition, 1905, 387p; ibid., Max Nossler & Co., Shanghai, Yokohama, Bremen; Probsthain & Co., London, 4th revised edition, 1905, 386p; Yoshiwara – The Nightless City, Charles Carrington, Paris, 1907, 340p. Privately printed for the Erotic Society of Japan, Iyemetsu Ltd., Tokyo; Yoshiwara – The Nightless City, Frederick Publications, New York, 1960, 372p; Nightless, City, or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukawku, Tuttle, Rutland, 5th revised edition, 1971.

----, The Sexual Life of Japan, being an exhaustive study of The Nightless, City, or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukawku, n.p., c.1900, 386p.; ibid., American Anthropological Society, 3rd edition, n.d., 8vo, 386p.

Longstreet, Stephen & Ethel, Yoshiwara: City of the Senses, David McKay, 1970, 225p. Historical study of the noted Tokyo brothel district, illustrated by masters of the Japanese print.

----, Yoshiwara: the pleasure quarters of old Tokyo, Yenbooks, Tokyo, 1988, 225p.

Matsumoto, Tadashige, The Yoshiwara – Two Japanese Love Stories, Walker, London, 1920s, 308p. Covers the exploits of Denkichi and O-Sen, and those of O-Tami and Hichisaburo.

Preuschen, Hermione von, Yoshiwara. Von Freudenhaus des Lebens [The Joy-house of Life], Janke, Berlin, 1920, 195p.

Seigle, Cecillia Segawa, Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1993.

Tresmin–Trémolières, Dr. (Dr. Bruno Sklarek and Dr. Iwan Bloch), Yoshiwara. Die Liebesstadt der Japaner, Sexualpsychologische Bibliothek Erster Serie, Louis Marcus, Berlin, 1910, 292p. Documents the entertainment and prostitution practices of Japan.

Yoshiwara (Geisha-liedjes), Broch, Brussel & Manteau, 1942, 62p.

Last updated: 18 October September 2006.


Metropolis Bibliography - Introduction Metropolis Bibliography - Books, Articles and Manuscripts Metropolis Bibliography - Internet Web Sites Metropolis Bibliography - Artwork, Posters and Photographs Metropolis Bibliography - Music Metropolis Bibliography - Film Metropolis Bibliography - Videos, Quicktime, DVD Metropolis Bibliography - Reviews 1927 Metropolis Bibliography - Australia 1928 Metropolis Bibliography - Posters