Street of Shame (Mizoguchi, 1956)

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A huge step up from my first encounter Mizoguchi (Ugetsu), Street of Shame is a harrowing portrait of the lives of prostitutes working in a brothel. The film is episodic, telling bits and pieces of each woman’s story, why they’ve come to be here, and why they happen to stay (it’s rarely a matter of choice). The ongoing mantra by the master and mistress of the establishment that the government ignores them is true, but their own claims of looking out for the women, could not be further from the truth. The girls are hard working, nearly everyone there to support a family or else to pay off debts. They are not paid enough to do either, and fall deeper and deeper into poverty. The filmmaking style creates a sort of “behind closed doors” feel, as the audience is often looking through darkness, or past doors or frames to see the action. There is a sense of the forbidden, and an externalized sense of “shame”. The final twenty minutes or so are especially heartbreaking, as we see the tragic end of one woman, and the tragic beginning of another. The film takes pity on its characters without condemning or humiliating them; it’s a beautiful film.

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