A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Street of Shame (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1956)

Yosuke Irie and Aiko Mimasu in Street of Shame
Mickey: Machiko Kyo
Yasumi: Ayako Wakao
Hanae: Michiyo Kogure
Yumiko: Aiko Mimasu
Yorie: Hiroko Machida
Eiko: Kenji Sugawara
Otane: Kumeko Urabe
Kawadaki: Yosuke Irie
Tatsuko Taya: Sadako Sawamura
Kurazo Taya: Eitaro Shindo
Shizuko: Yasuko Kawakami

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Screenplay: Masahige Narusawa
Based on a novel by Yoshiko Shibaki
Cinematography: Kazuo Miyagawa
Production design: Hisao Ichikawa, Hiroshi Mizutani
Film editing: Kanji Suganuma
Music: Toshiro Mayuzumi

In his last film, Kenji Mizoguchi returned to one of his most frequent settings, the world of prostitutes. The English-language title, Street of Shame, is slightly more exploitative than the Japanese, Akasen Chitai, which means "red-light district," although even that one is inevitably freighted with sensationalism. But Mizoguchi is hardly shaming his prostitutes -- whom we would call today, in a not entirely successful attempt at neutralizing the stigma, "sex workers." He wants us to understand who they are and why they pursue their occupation. He focuses on five women in the brothel known as "Dreamland," each of whom has dreams of her own, even if the most fundamental dream is that of survival in a world of exploitation and corruption. In the end, some of them triumph, some are crushed, and some stoically continue in a routine they can't rise above. Mizoguchi punctuates their stories with news of the ongoing debate in the Japanese parliament over the abolition of prostitution, which actually took effect after the film was released. At the film's end, we see a new young woman, fresh from the country, timidly taking her place in Dreamland, calling out in a weak and nervous voice for the clients who prowl the street. It's a heartbreaking moment, particularly since she has been given the job as a replacement for one of the women who suffered a nervous breakdown after being rejected by her son, ashamed of his mother's work. But Mizoguchi is no sentimentalist, and Street of Shame is not a conventional "message movie." Instead, it's a richly ironic and keen-eyed look at a fact of life: Sexual desire is universal, and as long as it exists, there will be those who take advantage of it.

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