Tough call on this forbiddingly dark post-WWII drama from Kenji Mizoguchi. Shot on blasted locations and drab interior sets, it focuses on single women trying to carve out a living before Japan’s late-‘40s recovery kicks in. Less stylized than his later films on similar subjects, it uses a Neo-Realist palette right from the opening as a struggling mother tries to sell some old clothes hoping to raise enough cash to buy food for her sick child. She comes away with a token’s worth of yen and some bitter advice: don’t sell your old clothes, sell yourself. And it’s mostly downhill from there with a sexually persistent boss at work (maybe he’ll pop the question), his dealings in opium (be a good girl and hide this package while the police poke around), even discovering he's carrying on a serious affair with your sister (now pregnant & diseased). Dire as this all sounds, Mizoguchi’s approach keeps you involved in the material, no small achievement since there’s almost certainly two or three reels missing. (Hard to get a handle on this as neither the Criterion DVD nor IMDb has much clarifying info.) But it does make a downward spiral into a fast slide. A brief respite in a women’s facility with a ‘tough love’ approach to wayward girls is loaded with interest and sharply characterized. But we’re in-and-out too fast. Frustrating, like a lot in here. Still, completists will need to watch, in spite of a subfusc print & borrowings from Beethoven’s Fifth(?!) in the music score.*
DOUBLE-BILL: *Non-completists are far better served by Mizoguchi’s last film on the subject, STREET OF SHAME/’56.