Street of Shame (Akasen chitai) (Directors Suite) (1956)

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Released 19-May-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-by Ross Gibson, Prof. of Arts at University of Sydney
Booklet-Insert article by Dr Barbara Hartley, University of Tasmania
Trailer-Four Directors Suite trailers
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1956
Running Time 82:12 (Case: 87)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kenji Mizoguchi
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Machiko Kyō
Aiko Mimasu
Ayako Wakao
Michiyo Kogure
Kumeko Urabe
Yasuko Kawakami
Hiroko Machida
Eitarō Shindō
Sadako Sawamura
Toranosuke Ogawa
Bontarō Miake
Daisuke Katō
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Toshirō Mayuzumi


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     The first thing that strikes you about this film is the synthesized score by Toshirō Mayuzumi in the opening credits. Kenji Mizoguchi had given his young composer a free hand with the score of this film, and influenced by his studies of avant-garde Western music in Paris after World War II, he came up with this off-beat and discordant score set against a wide pan of the Yoshiwara red-light district of Tokyo. This same score bookends the closing scene, so what we have is a statement about this district, its prostitution, and its uncertain present and future.

     Street of Shame (Akasen chitai) is best translated as 'Red-line district'. It represents the Yoshiwara area of Tokyo which was set aside for prostitution in the Edo district (i.e. Edo is modern-day Tokyo) alongside Shimabara for Kyoto and Shinmachi for Osaka in the 17th century. These districts were set up to protect public figures from scandal. This statement may not make sense in our western culture, but juxtapose this with the traditional Japanese view of marriage being for love and social respectability and prostitution for non-committal sexual desire, and one can begin to understand the premise of what would become Kenji Mizoguchi's last film before his death from leukaemia at age 58 in 1956.

     The life of a prostitute, or courtesan, was one of servitude, often for life. These women would be sold to the brothels by their parents prior to the age of twelve. A fortunate girl would become an apprentice to a high ranking courtesan. When the girl had completed her training, she would become a courtesan. These girls had a contract to the brothel that committed them for five to ten years, but massive debt would force them into the brothels their entire life. There were very few ways for a young lady to get out of the brothel due to her debt. One way to escape the life of a courtesan was for a rich man to buy her contract from the brothel and keep her as his personal concubine. Another would be if she managed to buy her own freedom. Both these outcomes were rare.

     The ensemble cast in Street of Shame shows the plight of five courtesans who work in the Yoshiwara, all for a brothel owner Mr Taya (Eitaro Shindo) who believes he is doing a social service by running his business; ironically it is called 'Dreamland'. Dan Harper in his article on the film for Senses of Cinema details the individual dilemmas of the main characters...

     "Hanae (Michiyo Kogure) finds her husband about to hang himself in their tiny apartment, she scolds him: “Why have we struggled along? We haven't stolen. We haven't committed any crime! But we couldn't live unless I sold myself.” Yet knowing the difficulties of her life (her baby and tubercular husband), the Mamasan reminds her, “Please don't become too haggard. You are for sale.”

     Yumeko (Aiko Mimasu) has a grown son for whom she has made the sacrifices of her life. She goes to the country to visit him, only to learn that he, too, has gone to Tokyo to find work. A shopkeeper along the bus route tells her, “You can wipe off your rouge but not the make-up of your trade.” When Yumeko finally meets her son outside the toy factory where he works, he disgustedly condemns and disowns her. That night, back in Dreamland, Yumeko goes insane and is taken off to hospital.

     Yorie (Hiroko Machida) manages to marry and leave Dreamland. The other girls throw her a party and give her the usual wedding gifts. Hanae's husband even exhorts her to never return to her old life, to which she tearfully agrees. But Yorie soon discovers that her husband expects her to be nothing more than an unpaid servant, and she returns to Dreamland humiliated, bitterly exclaiming that “at least we get to spend what we make.”

     Then there is the lovely Yasumi (Ayako Wakao), who makes more money than all the others and is always ready to loan them money – as long as it is paid back with interest. She saves everything she earns, bilking two men to the point of their ruin in the process (one of them nearly kills her when she rejects his proposal of marriage). She seems entirely preoccupied with money, until we learn why: her father is in prison and she has ruined her life to bail him out.

     Throughout the film, Mickey (Machiko Kyo) tells everyone the brutal truth and is totally cynical about her profession. When her father shows up and demands she come home, she kicks him out, upbraiding him for his treatment of her dead mother. Divested of her illusions of a rosy future, she takes her life as it comes without the promises of the future or the burden of the past.

     The film closes on a note of hope and of heartbreak. Yasumi has used her money to open a bedding and quilting shop that does business with Dreamland. Mr Taya and the Mamasan wonder at her success, without for a moment grasping the cost to her life. Yasumi stops in to greet the other girls “for old time's sake” and glibly tells them that she is also available for loans.

     But Mizoguchi doesn't end there. A new girl, Shizuko (Yasuko Kawakami) is having her “debut” in Dreamland and the Mamasan gives her advice as she performs the ritual of applying white powder to her face and neck. Shizuko only sits there with her eyes downcast. And it is her anxious face we see in the film's final shot, cowering at the doors of Dreamland, calling out in a crushed voice to men passing in the street".

     The film's closing scenes show an uncertain future for this prostitution trade, as already by the mid-1950s there was debate in Japanese society about the role of prostitution in these districts. Mizoguchi doesn't overtly state his position in this film but I believe it is implied. The resultant success of Street of Shame was believed to have influenced the decision by the Japanese government to ban prostitution in 1958, two years after the film was made.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The camera is mainly still in this film, but where there is camera movement it is both cyclical and diagonal, like the lives of the characters, who leave and return to their profession. Diagonal shots signify discordance and a lack of direction. It seems that as each main character in Street of Shame thinks they are getting somewhere in their life, harsh reality intervenes as they realise that nothing changes in Dreamland.

     The aspect ratio of Street of Shame is 1:33:1 full-frame, not 16x9 enhanced.

     The main feature is presented on one layer of a 4.4 gb dual-layered DVD. The average bitrate of the film is 6.29 m/b per sec so there are no compression problems with the transfer. Noted Japanese cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, known for his famous tracking shots, shot Street of Shame using Mizoguchi's signature deep-focus and long takes, so the image looks sharp and has excellent shadow detail as it was also shot on set. There are also diagonal shots.

     After shooting The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei in colour in 1955 (Mizoguchi's second and last feature in colour) , Mizoguchi went back to his trademark black-and-white style. Like Her Mother's Profession, I was really impressed by the subtle and distinctive tones of grey in the image.

     The main transfer is relatively free of film artefacts, however there is low level noise evident from time-to-time, more so in dark scenes and this manifests itself as film grain.

     Subtitles are available in a default white option or in alternative yellow.

    There is no RSDL change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Toshiro Mayuzumi's electronic score is interspersed with traditional Japanese instrumentation, but overall this is a dialogue-driven film.

     Both the Japanese track and the English audio commentary are encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kbps each.

     Dialogue is clear and synchronised.

     The main soundtrack is free from common audio transfer problems for a film of this age such as pops and crackles. There is a slight background hiss, however although this is only minor and will not detract the viewer.

    There is no surround channel usage as the main Japanese soundtrack is in mono. The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio commentary by Ross Gibson, Professor of Contemporary Arts, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney

    This commentary is informative, detailing the social context of the film so that the viewer can understand the story. Gibson's tone is consistent throughout and he barely pauses for a break, which is really quite impressive. He makes mention of Mizoguchi's use of 'ma', a concept that has no equivalent English translation. It means "gap", "space", "pause" or "the space between two structural parts". In the context of the film Gibson uses it describe Mizoguchi's exploration of the potentiality that arises from the setting of a scene. This concept is used to support the conflict between old-world and modern Japan, a common theme in many of Mizoguchi's films. Gibson also mentions the electronic score and how it adds a sense of 'weightlessness' to the film. Overall, this is an academic commentary rather than a scene-specific one and this is suitable in the context of the importance of the social themes in Street of Shame.

Insert article by Dr Barbara Hartley, Head of School, Senior Lecturer in Japanese Studies, University of Tasmania

     This 16-page booklet features an essay by Dr. Barbara Hartley entitled, 'Prostitution & Poverty in Post-war Japan'. Dr. Hartley adds to the concepts mentioned by Ross Gibson in his audio commentary. She discusses the translation of the film title as a 'red line bounded area', the propensity for Mizoguchi to present women who suffer in modern Japanese society in his films, the Japanese concept of prostitution, the 'shinpa' performance style and its influence on Mizoguchi's melodramatic style, she makes comparisons to Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs and mentions the role of Toshiro Mayuzumi's avant-garde score, Kazuo Miyagawa's cinematography and Mizutani's Hiroshi's art direction. Finally, Dr. Hartley goes into specific detail over each of the main character's backgrounds and she argues that some elements of the plot such as suicide and mental illness may seem melodramatic and exaggerated to us but was a real phenomenon in the 1950s Japan.

Directors Suite trailers

    Four Directors Suite trailers are included for Jia Zhang-Ke's The World, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Lola from the Brd Trilogy, Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel and Kenji Mizoguchi's Her Mother's Profession.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     Street of Shame has been released in Region 2 in the United Kingdom by Masters of Cinema under its traditional Japanese title, Akasen Chitai. This comes in a two-disc release with Yōkihi (also known as The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei). The extras include video discussions on both films by Tony Rayns which both run for 9-11 minutes, an audio commentary on Akasen Chitai again by Japanese film critic Tony Rayns and a 64-page booklet featuring writing by Keiko I. McDonald (author of Mizoguchi), Mark Le Fanu (author of Mizoguchi and Japan), Masako Nakagawa (author of The Yang Kuei-fei Legend in Japanese Literature), ninth-century poetry (A Song of Unending Sorrow) by Po Chü-i, and rare production stills.

     Street of Shame has also been released by Eclipse in Region 1 in the United States in a Box set entitled Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women. This set includes three other films: Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion and Women of the Night. This box set release has no extras.

     In my opinion, the video discussions and expert audio commentary by Tony Rayns and the booklet, together with the inclusion of Yōkihi makes the Region 2 Masters of Cinema release the best available on DVD, although the Region 4 Madman Directors Suite release, with its informative audio commentary by Ross Gibson and 16-page booklet featuring Dr. Hartley's essay on Prostitution and Post-war Japan is an excellent release onto DVD also.

Summary

    Wow! This is quite an incredible finish to Kenji Mizoguchi's film career, capping his lifelong ambition to provide a voice to the struggles of the lower-class members of society, who are depicted without status and power and are subject to the oft-unjust authority of government officials and business owners. Mizoguchi tended to address the changing values of traditional and post-World War II Japanese society through his films on prostitution set in modern Japan or in his Jidaigeki or 'period-drama' films set in 17th century Japan or later (although not always, Sansho the Bailiff, for example, is set in the 11th century).

     Again, Madman Directors Suite label has provided a quality release, with an expert audio commentary by Ross Gibson and an academic essay by Dr. Barbara Hartley supporting the social themes relevant to 1950s Japan when Street of Shame was made and released.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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