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aka - Akasen Chitai
Japan 1956
Directed by
Kenji Mizoguchi
87 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Street Of Shame

Kenji Mizoguchi’s last film is a heartfelt exposé of institutionalized prostitution in Japan, one which objects to it less on intrinsic moral grounds than as the result of the parlous state of women in post-war Japan.

The film portrays the lives of a group of five prostitutes in the red light district of Toyko as the Japanese parliament considers a bill to outlaw the trade. The women with the exception of  'Mickey', (Machiko Kyo who played the ghost in Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu, 1953) despise the work but because of poverty and debt have no choice. Only the ruthless Yasumi (Ayako Wakao) has a strategy to escape her situation.

Mizoguchi creates a diverse range of characters who have varying back-stories but at heart, all are selling their bodies against their will (or in Mickey’s case as an act of revenge) and in one way or another because of men. Mizoguchi originally intended to make a more typically documentary-like film but the mixture of social realism and narrative fiction make for a highly credible outcome, indeed the film is credited with the eventual successful passing of the anti-prostitution bill later in 1956. With its classic black and white visual style of the era, a combination of art direction, cinematography and mise-en-scène, an intriguingly minimalist score by Toshirô Mayuzumi and somewhat melodramatic tenor the film is a front-line runner for inclusion amongst “women’s films” of the period and much more effective than Mizoguchi's thematically-related Her Mother's Profession (1954), at the same time as it tellingly captures a moment in Japan's social history.

 

 

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