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Kenji Mizoguchi: A Cinema of Totality

Friday, August 29, 2014
7:00 p.m. Street of Shame
Kenji Mizoguchi (Japan, 1956)

(Akasen chitai). Mizoguchi’s last completed film presents portraits of five prostitutes in a brothel called Dreamland in Yoshiwara, Tokyo’s red-light district. The women are in the life for a variety of reasons—a would-be bride finds being a whore preferable to being enslaved to a husband; a young mother assures her struggling husband, “Soon we’ll be glad we didn’t kill ourselves.” Another mother’s grown son witnesses her debasing herself to lure clients; still, she fantasizes this son wants to live with her, for Dreamland is as much about the women’s delusions as the johns’. The place itself is an oversized, mod-fifties fantasy of a setting; times have changed since Sisters of the Gion, as witnessed by the backdrop of a national debate preceding the 1958 anti-prostitution ruling. Mizoguchi has changed, too. A father nearly purchasing his daughter for sex is “the last word in debauchery,” in her words; and in bitterness for a director once drawn, he famously said, to a “climate of beauty.”

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Masashige Narusawa. Photographed by Kazuo Miyagawa. With Ayako Wakao, Machiko Kyo, Aiko Mimasu, Sadako Sawamura. (86 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Janus Films/Criterion Collection)