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Posts Tagged ‘Kenji Mizoguchi’

street-of-shame

Five prostitutes work at Dreamland, in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district. As the Diet considers a ban on prostitution, the women’s daily dramas play out. Each has dreams and motivations. Hanae is married, her husband unemployed; they have a young child. Yumeko, a widow, uses her earnings to raise and support her son, who’s now old enough to work and care for her. The aging Yorie has a man who wants to marry her. Yasumi saves money diligently to pay her debt and get out; she also has a suitor who wants to marry her, but she has other plans for him. Mickey seems the most devil-may-care, until her father comes from Kobe to bring her news of her family and ask her to come home.

This would prove to be Kenji Mizoguchi’s last movie before his death from leukaemia in 1956 but what a great movie to bow out with about a small group of women having to work as prostitutes in order to survive and support their families post World-War II. It’s also a bit of a propoganda movie in that Mizoguchi is constantly seen as trying to go against the politicians in Japan who were debating about outlawing prostitution at the time when brothels were a legitimate business. The movie on numerous occasions has the cast listening to some radio announcements that the motion has failed. Whatever Mizoguchi was trying to do it didn’t work as shortly after the movie was released the Diet passed a bill to ban prostitution. Unlike Western countries, prostitution has a different stigma attached to it in Japan. Mizoguchi’s directing is as good as it ever was and the world he creates suggests he may have had some experience of visiting brothels.

street of shame promo

The 5 women who we meet in the movie have not been forced into selling their bodies but don’t feel they have no other way of making money. Most have some debts to settle and with one or two even having been sold to the brothel’s owner by their families as they were so poor. Some dream of one day escaping from their work with one women even hoping the prostitution bill will be passed so she can leave the brothel. Each of the characters we are introduced that work in the brothel has an interesting story to tell and are well written. Rather than focus on their profession, the viewer comes to see them as human beings with their flaws, weaknesses, warts and all. Their stories are convincingly told in such a short space of time. A particular favourite of mine is Yumeko’s story which is compelling as we see that her young son does not agree with what she’s doing. She’s wracked with guilt but at the same time what else can she do? The money that she has earned has gone back to her parents in the country who are raising her son. Her plight is made all that sadder when her son who is so ashamed of her job turns his back and rejects her. The movie is heartbreaking as we realise that the women are unhappy with what they’re doing and have dreams that will likely never come true. Mizoguchi manages to make the viewer sympathetic to their cause. Here we have 5 women who are waiting for a brighter and better future but until that happens they are stuck in a job peddling their bodies. The brothel’s owner likens himself as a social worker who is looking after these poor women and giving them a job. The final scene of the movie is powerful as the viewer sees a new girl on the job, a young virgin on her first night who looks on from behind a corner slightly frightened as she watches her co-workers trying to pull in the punters.

The ensemble cast especially the actresses playing the prostitutes are fantastic in their roles and pull in strong performances. Machiko Kyo is probably the standout actress as the tough, cocky loudmouth Mickey who wears westernised clothing and there’s a brilliant scene when her father turns up at the brothel where she works. The viewer is shocked when she even propositions him for money but her world is quickly turned upside down when he says that her mother has died the previous year and she knew nothing about it.

Street of Shame is an excellent movie from Kenji Mizoguchi. Who knows what other masterpieces he would have directed had he not died at the young age of 58? It’s a movie one should not miss and is definitely worth checking out if you like classic Japanese movies. It’s a gritty and honest study of prostitution in Japan in the mid 50’s. Highly recommended.

No trailer but here’s a clip when Yumeko meets her son and she is shattered by what he says to her.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Osaka Elegy DVD

Ayako Murai is a young woman working as a telephone operator in 1930’s Osaka. In order to pay the debts of her father, unemployed and threatened with arrest after embezzling ¥300, she agrees to become the mistress of her employer Mr. Asai. After paying her father’s debts she then continues working as a mistress, this time for another workplace admirer, Mr Fujino, in an attempt to help pay her brother Hiroshi’s university tuition fees. When she attempts to fool Mr Fujino into giving her extra money, so she can marry her boyfriend Nishimura, he calls the police and she is arrested for soliciting. Upon her return home she is ostracised by her family and her boyfriend and forced to leave home.

This is one of Kenji Mizoguchi’s earliest masterpieces about Japanese women and their struggles in a male dominated society although the best of his works was yet to come. The story that unfolds is made even more sad due to the fact that the main character Ayako is only trying to protect her father and family in what she does but they turn their back on her in the end and she is left all alone. She is basically pushed by family pressure into becoming a mistress to pay back the money that her pathetic and cowardly father has taken. Ayako gets no support from her self-centred brother and her naive little sister. She throws away her dignity and is made to pay the price for it in the end by being publicly shamed with her name splashed over the newspapers. It’s embarassing in Japanese society for a family when their name becomes tarnished. A black name against a family can stay with them for a long time sometimes even for a generation in some cases making life somewhat difficult for them. I was surprised when I found out that Mizoguchi had based this story on his own sister. She was sold into being a prostitute for a rich man by her own father as they were quite a poor family. Thanks to the money coming in from his sister, young Kenji was able to go through school and be educated which would lead him on the path to becoming a movie director.

Osaka Elegy screenshot

The movie has a compelling story with some great acting from the cast especially Isuzu Yamada who is excellent as Ayaka. The viewer sympathises with her situation and can see the dark road she is leading herself down throughout the movie. The script is written well and the camera techniques used by Mizoguchi such as long takes, light and shadows and outdoor night shots of Osaka only enhances the movie. Certain scenes such as the bunraku puppet play in the theatre or when Ayako’s boyfriend discovers her double life are memorable moments but it’s the final scene of the movie which usually gets picked as being the best by critics as Ayako walks towards the camera, stares into it before walking off. It makes us think what will ultimately happen to her – will she have a bleak future or will she find happiness? As it’s only a 71 minute movie, the plot zips along at a quick pace.

Osaka Elegy was the first Kenji Mizoguchi movie to show how brilliant a director he really was. It gave him a lot of acclaim in Japan and would provide the springboard for the success he would so rightfully get in the future. Recommended if you enjoy early Japanese cinema.

There’s no trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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