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It is based on a story by Taijiro Tamura who, like Suzuki, had served as a soldier in the war. Disappointed by the marriage of her lover to a woman he does not love, prostitute Harumi drifts from the city to a remote Japanese outpost in Manchuria to work in a "comfort house," or brothel, during the Sino-Japanese war.
The commanding adjutant there takes an immediate liking to the new girl, but she is at first fascinated, and comes to love, Mikami, the officer's aide. At first he is haughty and indifferent to the girl, which enrages her, but they are drawn together eventually. Abused and manipulated by the adjutant, she grows to hate the officer and seeks solace in Mikami's arms. They carry on a clandestine affair, which is a dangerous breach of code for both of them.
Tragedy strikes when the Chinese attack the outpost, and Mikami is severely wounded in a trench. Harumi runs to him and they are both captured by the enemy while he is unconscious. The Chinese dress his wounds and he is given the opportunity to withdraw with them; but as a Japanese soldier, he is bound by a code not to be captured at all, and only Harumi's intervention prevents him from killing himself. Once again in the custody of the Japanese, Harumi is sent back to the brothel, and Mikami is to be court-martialed and executed in disgrace.
During another attack on the outpost, he escapes with Harumi's aid, but instead of fleeing with her, he intends to blow himself up to clear his and his battalion's honor. She leaps on his body and they die together. In , Tamura's story was made into a more romantic film, Escape at Dawn , co-written by Akira Kurosawa and directed by Senkichi Taniguchi.
For the Nikkatsu adaptation, Suzuki drew upon his firsthand experience at the wartime front to portray the conditions and behavior in a more realistic light. What was presented in the film and the actual conditions "probably aren't that different," Suzuki said in a interview. Most Japanese war movies portrayed the era with healthy doses of tragedy, but Suzuki infused an air of ludicrousness in his film. His own opinion of the wartime military experience was that beside the brutality, it was "extremely comical and absurd.