Street of Shame is a beautiful drama film that follows the daily lives of five prostitutes situated in Yoshiwara, Tokyo’s red light district, during the mid-1950s. The American occupation has ended and the majority of the Japanese population is still struggling to get by after the destructive Second World War that ended over a decade ago. For the sex-workers times have become extra challenging as the Diet is considering to ban prostitution, which would mean losing their income. But for some it would also mean a way out of the life they are stuck in.
Street of Shame is the last film of legendary Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi, director of timeless classics like Ugetsu (1953) and The Life of Oharu (1952). He died a few months after the film was released, leaving his audience with a strong motion picture as a closure to a prolific career. The film was a big success in Japan and touched the hearts of many with its portrayal of a world that was hidden right before their own eyes.
The film gets close and personal to the characters that each have their own story to tell and smoothly switches between the different perspectives. We, as the audience, are slowly pulled into the cruel reality many prostitutes were facing back in the day and Mizoguchi balances it out perfectly. Every actress gets her time to shine and give their character the necessary depth. From the swindling Yasumi (Ayako Wakao) to the overconfident newcomer Mickey (Machiko Kyo); all the performances are captivating to watch.
As customers come and go to experience their little share of heaven, the women on the other hand are slowly falling apart. Hanae (Michiyo Kogure) is working hard to support her jobless husband and newborn baby, while Yumeko (Aiko Mimasu) tries to get money together to support her son. Yorie (Hiroko Machida) is struggling with age as she slowly starts to lose popularity to younger girls, like Mickey.
Director Mizoguchi shows us a look from within the pleasure palaces of an occupation that is often looked down upon, displaying the viewer a harsh world that is mostly hidden from sight. It brings us a fascinating motion picture that is captivating from start to finish with its powerhouse performances, leaving us with a compelling, yet disturbing, ending.