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STREET OF SHAME (Akasen chitai) (director/writer: Kenji Mizoguchi; screenwriters:from the novel of Yoshiko Shibaki/Masashige Narusawa; cinematographer: Kazuo Miyagawa; editor: Kanji Sugawara; music: ToshirĂ´ Mayuzumi; cast: Machiko Kyo (Mickey), Aiko Mimasu (Yumeko), Ayako Wakao (Yasumi), Michiyo Kogure (Hanae), Hiroko Machida (Yorie), Yasuko Kowakami (Shizuko), Eitaro Shinde (Taya), Kenji Sugawara (Eikoh), Bontaro Miake (Patrolman), Toranosuke Ogawa (Mickey’s Father); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Masaichi Nagata; Kino International; 1956-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“A moving study about a group of prostitutes in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara red-light district.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Kenji Mizoguchi (“A Geisha”/”The Life of Oharu”/”Sansho the Bailiff”/”Ugetsu”), one of the world’s great directors, for his swan song (died at age 58 from leukemia in the year of the film’s release) chooses to tell a moving study about a group of prostitutes in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara red-light district, who work in a brothel called Dreamland. They struggle for economical survival and to avoid exploitation by their men clients. They are also faced with Parliament’s annual consideration of a ban on prostitution, and the director makes it clear such a law will be of little use to the women who still need to earn a living even though the director voices his outcry against legalized prostitution. The whorehouse of postwar Japan is pictured as not the pretty romanticized place of the traditional past, as Mizoguchi shows the unhappy lives and unrealized dreams of five prostitutes. Mickey (Machiko Kyo), who gives the film’s best performance, is a cynical young beauty who seems the most hard-hearted, daring and free-spirited, but things take on a different light when her smug father visits from Kobe and asks her to come back to their broken him and she tries to corrupt him by propositioning him. Hanae (Michiko Kogure) is a family woman who must support her unemployed hubby and child. Yasumi (Ayako Wakao) is a young woman who cunningly uses a suitor she doesn’t love to get ahead and is resourceful enough to save her earnings hoping to get out some day. Yorie (Hiroko Machida) is an aging romantic who has a boyfriend she expects to marry and live a normal domestic life. Yumeko (Aiko Mimasu) is wracked with shame at what she does and has let her parents living in the country raise her son, and is shattered when her son rejects her after she has supported him all these years.

Mizoguchi gives his heroines, all who have a heart of gold, love and sympathy, and points his finger at Japan’s repressive patriarchal society for allowing the exploitation of women and for reflecting society’s hypocritical attitude to them. It’s a polished, poignant, spirited and unsentimental account of the heroines who resiliently live in the street of shame and await a better future. There was nothing remarkable or particularly imaginative about the drama, but it has a way of staying with you and reminding you of their lonely and joyless plight.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”