Saturday, April 28, 2007


Yesterday I saw two movies at the AFI Theater* in Silver Spring. The first of these was Kenji Mizoguchi's Street of Shame (Akasen Chitai, literally, Red Light District, 1956).* This was the last of a seven-part Mizoguchi program presented by the institute over two months; five of which I managed to see. It was also Mizoguchi's final film. And it's excellent. Returning to the themes he pondered during much of his career, Street of Shame follows the vagaries of everyday life among the women of the Dreamland bar in Tokyo's Yoshiwara pleasure district. For three hundred years, Yoshiwara has been losing its patina of social nobility: houses of geishas and courtesans have devalued into the cathouses of prostitutes. At the same time, many decades of war and social upheaval have made life in Japan almost unendurably harsh, forcing more middle-class women into adopting a degrading lifestyle. Mizoguchi's work often seems to explore how the hardships of life are particularly cruel to women. Or maybe by using the word "degrading" I'm needlessly reading moral imperatives into this deceptively simple movie:* it gracefully roams from character to character presenting individual stories without moralizing. In fact, Mizoguchi nonchalantly covers both sides of an issue facing Tokyo at the time the movie was made. In the movie, as in real life at the time, the post-war social order was seeking anti-prostitution legislation, placing many people with no other marketable skill at their wit's end. Mizoguchi stops well-short of attempting to answer the questions his movie asks about the moral merits of prostitution versus sickness, social ostracism, or eventual starvation. It is content to genially note the interactions of a handful of achingly human women working hard to endure. His characters are not hookers with hearts of gold, but they do have heart. [Cavin]

Then, a 1 sided conversation ensued...

To which Blogger Mr. Cavin added:

* Much as the English-speakers who imported this movie did when they slapped the ridiculously torrid Street of Shame onto it in a feeble effort to whip-up some tawdry exploitation appeal.

Saturday, April 28, 2007 1:43:00 PM  

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