Dan Harper wrote:
Any serious film director is concerned not only with meticulous representation but also with a kind of drama which must, by its nature, question the ethical rightness of things as they are…. Usually, a director is drawn to situations with maximum dramatic potential. Invariably that potential is provided by strife and friction between the individual and his environment. In the Japanese woman, Japanese directors have discovered the perfect protagonist. This does not mean that Japanese directors are feminists – even Kenji Mizoguchi, though he is often so described. It means rather that these directors in seeking objectivity as well as dramatic revelation have, naturally, shown Japanese women as they are.
– Donald Richie (1)
Kenji Mizoguchi’s Akasen Chitai (Red-Light District, 1956) had the misfortune of being tagged with the silly title Street of Shame on its first American release, and it has stuck. Doubtless meant to imply a far more salacious treatment of its subject than Mizoguchi intended, the title has also promoted the prevailing view that he was making a political statement about the class of women he had so tenderly treated through more than 30 years of filmmaking. And while it was probably inevitable that Mizoguchi should return to his favourite subject in his last film (2) – courtesans and their floating world – Street of Shame is one last, devastating look at how life’s cruelties are especially hard on women in Japan.