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Film / Street of Shame

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Street of Shame is a 1956 film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi.

It is a story about the various prostitutes at Dreamland, a legally licensed brothel in the Yoshiwara district of Tokyo, long notorious as a Red Light District. Among the women working at the brothel are:

  • Yumeko, who is old enough to have a grown son.

  • Hanae, who is supporting both an infant son and a husband who is sick, presumably tubercular, and can't get work.

  • Yorie, who like Yumeko is getting long in the tooth for sex work, and has a man that wants to marry her.

  • Yasumi, who is saving up money to get out of the life, some of which is coming from her own prospective husband.

  • Michiko, aka "Mickey" (Machiko Kyo), the newest arrival at the brothel, who is young and sexy and seemingly quite content with being a hooker—but as it turns out she does have some demons of her own.

All of this plays out as the news is filled with reports of a bill before parliament that will ban prostitution. (In Real Life this film was credited with helping to get Japan's first anti-prostitution law passed.)

Kenji Mizoguchi's last film, completed shortly before his death from cancer.


  • And the Adventure Continues: A deeply sad and depressing example, as the film ends with a barely legal girl arriving at Dreamland, getting dressed up in geisha costume, and soliciting for her first customer.
  • Call-Back: Back before she was widowed and everything went to hell, Yorie was a teenaged bride in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. She sings an old song about Manchuria at her going-away party at the brothel. After a despondent Yorie comes back—it turns out her "husband" was more interested in a live-in slave than a bride—she sings the song again in a much sadder spirit.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Every time a radio is heard in the movie, the news on the radio is reporting about efforts to ban prostitution. No one on Japanese radio ever talks about the weather or the stock market or anything.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Mickey comes barreling into the brothel for the first time in tight pants and a Sexy Sweater Girl blouse, unlike all the other girls who dress up traditional Japanese geisha style. She sees a large decorative model clamshell, jumps up in it, and says "I am Venus!" And of course she has an American nickname, "Mickey". She is established as brassy and assertive, and Westernized rather than traditional.
  • Fanservice: A shot from behind of a naked Mickey, only partially obscured by a cloudy glass door.
  • Geisha: Discussed Trope, as the girls of the brothel talk about how geishas back in the day had to know stuff like flower arrangement and music and the art of the fan dance.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Mickey. She knows it herself, saying "I'm well proportioned, too" when her pimp is selling her to Dreamland. Yorie's client pays for a bath with Mickey and says "You have such a great body" when she gets out of the hot tub.
  • I Have No Son!: Rather, I Have No Father. Mickey is startled when her father shows up at the brothel. Any hopefulness she might have felt at his arrival is immediately dissipated when her father says that he's there because his other daughter is getting married and Mickey's work as a prostitute is a family embarrassment. Mickey says "Stop acting like you're my parent!", and boots him out of the place.
  • I Have to Iron My Dog: Yasumi has a suitor that she bleeds for money from time to time but whom she doesn't really have any feelings for. At one point she refuses a date with him on the grounds that she has to care for a nonexistent sick brother.
  • Indentured Servitude: The owners of the Dreamland manipulate the girls into getting into debt so they can't leave sex work. Yasumi is very canny with her money and is determined to avoid this fate.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Hanae comes home in the nick of time, as her husband is standing on a box in the living room, about ready to hang himself.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Yumeko's son comes to visit. She has him sent away, as she doesn't want him to see her tarted up. However this attempt at discretion fails when Yumeko goes outside to solicit customers and the boy, who lingered outside, sees her yanking men into the brothel. He walks away disgusted.
  • Red Light District: Yoshiwara, where brothels line the streets and prostitutes actually grab men by the arm and pull them into brothels. The film's title Street of Shame is a literal translation of the Japanese phrase that would more accurately be translated into English as "red light district".
  • Shout-Out: Mickey says she's going out to see a Marilyn Monroe movie.
  • Single Mom Stripper: She isn't even single! But Hanae is hooking to support both her infant child and her weak, tubercular husband.
  • Stealing from the Till: It turns out that Yasumi's suitor, who has been giving her gobs of money, has been getting the money by embezzling from his work.
  • Unusual Euphemism: The money the girls make from sex work is called "sales".