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Thursday, September 20, 2012

AKASEN CHITAI / STREET OF SHAME (1956)

Kenji Mizoguchi’s final work follows the pattern of life at a legal brothel where cash, not sex or companionship, is the main object of desire. It’s a difficult time for the girls as they poach clients and worry about family issues & debts to the house while the world outside debates a national bill that will shut them down for good. Typically, Mizoguchi finds nothing to be sentimental about. There’s the boss, always giving advise & letting the girls know how lucky they have it; the no-nonsense house manager who keeps them wedded to their jobs with easy loans they’ll never repay; and ‘the house regulars’ the working girls clutch tightly while ripping them off for all they’re worth when they're not lying in comforting tones.. Mizoguchi seems to hold these lives in his hand as he guides us around five complicated women in a mere hour & a half as they toughen up or break in half. Equally tender and merciless, he leads us toward a double climax that features one of his signature harrowing emotional scenes as a sacrificing mother is rejected by her ashamed son and then back to the work house where mental & physical violence seeps thru the cracks of this sexual commodities market. Only 58 when he died, it’s hard to imagine Mizoguchi going much farther than he takes us here.

DOUBLE-BILL: The perfect double-bill would be ADUA E LE COMPAGNE/60, a post-Neo-Realist Italian pic from Antonio Pietrangeli with Simone Signoret & Marcello Mastrioanni staying up late on the last night of legal brothels in Italy. It’s never been out Stateside, but YOUTUBE has the whole thing for those who can stand compressed video and the UK has it on a Region 2 DVD for those who’ve got the right player. (And speaking of things Italian, look at the guy in this Italian poster. Asian-Italian? Whatever he is, you won't find his like in the film.)

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