Street of Shame (1956)
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Critic Reviews for Street of Shame
Of all the films about prostitution, Kenji Mizoguchi's Street of Shame, made in 1956 at the end of his career, is perhaps the greatest.
The settings are a far removed from the medieval landscapes of Ugetsu or The Life of Oharu, but Mizoguchi's focus on the plight of his women characters is as intent and heart-rending as ever.
The late Kenji Mizoguchi, who directed Ugetsu, failed to show as much imagination in this one as in that one.
Renowned for his masterful tales of women oppressed, Mizoguchi offers stinging condemnation of a Japanese tradition stretching back hundreds of years.
Audience Reviews for Street of Shame
Sadly, this was to be the last film made by film-maker, Kenji Mizoguchi before dying. But at least he went out with a great film, especially one that touches on his usual themes. In fact, this film was so powerful that it's considered to be one of the reasons why prostitution was banned in Japan shortly after its release. The story focuses on a group prostitutes working in a brothel called Dreamland, and each has their own personal problems to deal with, while the country's politicians are also debating the issue of prostitution which could ruin their livelihood. Hanae is a married woman with a child, whose husband is unemployed and depressed, Mickey is the new girl in the brothel who is very cynical and only cares about herself, Yumeko is a widow and an older prostitute whose son wants nothing to do with her, Yorie wants to get married and leave the brothel, and Yasumi is the most respected and profitable of the prostitutes who is saving up to buy her way out of the brothel, while also stringing along a man who wants to marry her, but is only using him for money. Despite having a fairly short running time of 80-odd-minutes, Street Of Shame manages to develop its characters quite well. No one feels like a cardboard cutout as the film explores their issues and how they live their lives from day to day, not knowing what will come next as their profession is possibly about to be outlawed and not knowing what to do with themselves. I especially enjoyed how the tormented Yumeko character was developed as her life slowly falls apart after her own son disowns her. There's a great deal of emotion and turmoil to be found in the story, and you can't help but feel sympathy for these characters because the script does such a good job at developing them. The acting is also pretty good, though actresses Aiko Mimasu (Yumeko) and Machiko Kyo (Mickey) steal the show with their roles, even though their characters are polar opposites of one another. The cast as a whole is also quite good and each makes their character feel alive and never lets them fall into the pitfalls other characters would in lesser dramas. While not his most polished work, Street Of Shame is still a fantastic film that is well worth watching and a fitting sendoff for the underrated director. It's a film that will make you feel a wide range of emotions as you follow each of the troubled characters and you will be engaged from beginning to end.
Mizoguchi's last film illustrates why prostitutes "have" to do what they do, instead of only "why". The film follows many prostitutes working during a time when prostitution was being legally challenged in Japan. Their lives all intersect at a club where they serve new clients on a nightly basis. One prostitute is a ruthless con who ends up tricking a merchant out of his business and 250,000 yen. Another is a woman who sold herself to support her son, but her son, unable to deal with her profession and past, rejects her. Another sells her body to support her ill husband and infant child. Then there is one who is a young delinquent and we learn that she does so probably out of spite for her father's behavior in the past. The heartbreak of a prostitute who tries to flee the business but realizes that: her husband is using her, that married life is too difficult, and earning a living by other means doesn't pay enough, sums up how trapped the prostitutes are. It is strange and sad to see that all are in the profession for only money and desperately want to leave, but can never generate enough cash. The exception is Yat-chan who tricks the merchant, then in the end takes over his store and thus frees herself from the business. However, the departure of one prostitute signals the coming of another as we see a young girl on her first night trying to bring in customers; her uncomfort with her situation mirrors the audiences. The great effectiveness of the film lies in being able to portray the horrible and difficult lives of prostitutes so matter of factly, that is where the real shock lies.
mizoguchi's last film sees the elegant geisha of his earlier period films fallen to the level of common prostitutes in the post war period. each of the five or so main characters have distinct personalities and very different reasons for and ways of dealing with their work and its consequences. machiko kyo, the beautiful ghost from ugetsu, is especially striking as cynical modern girl mickey.
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