Films of Reza Mirkarimi:
1 year ago
1. Licensed Prostitution
The beginning shows the madam, Tatsuko Taya (played by Sadako Sawamura), of a licensed brothel discussing an upcoming bill before the Japanese National Diet (Japanese parliament) that would outlaw prostitution. (In fact at the time of the making of Street of Shame, such a bill was being discussed in the Diet, and the reaction to this film may have contributed to its ultimate passage later that year.) Tatsuko grumbles why the government would make such a change, since the Yoshiwara district has been around and accepted for 300 years. Then some of the other girls at the brothel are shown discussing the implications of the bill.
We also see the pretty young courtesan, Yasumi, talking to a man, Aoki, who wants to marry her. In an effective 97-second shot, she seductively urges him to pay her debt of 150,000 yen  before she can accept his offer. We will later learn that most of the girls in the brothel are heavily in debt, and that is the main reason for why they must ply their trade.
2. The Dreamland Salon
The film’s second section shows the relatively complicated circumstances of the five women. There is another effective 90-second shot showing the newcomer and more sexy Mickey trying to steal one of Yorie’s regular clients – a violation of one the fundamental house norms. This is one of the rather infrequent occasions where the separate story lines of five women happen to intersect.
Mr. Taya assures them all that he is their ally. But a major problem for the women at the Dreamland Salon is that the brothel takes advantage of them and keeps them interminably in debt by issuing them short-term loans at exorbitant interest rates. The crafty Yasumi does the same thing to the other women.
Later and separately the more pragmatic Hanae is shown trying to deal with her ill and suicidal husband. Their destitution had once led them to consider a joint suicide, before Hanae decided to commit herself to life and support their family by becoming a prostitute. After interrupting another of her husband’s suicide attempts on this occasion, she tells him,
“We’re not going to die, no matter what you say. I’ll live to see . what will become of a prostitute. I’ll see it for myself.”Afterwards, the emotionally exhausted Hanae comes back to the main salon, where Tatsuko complains to her,
“Can you not look so worn out? You’re merchandise.”
The guileless Yumeko goes back to the provincial home of her in-laws to visit her seldom-seen son, but discovers that he has moved to Tokyo and now has a job at a toy factory. She wonders why he has not come to visit her and worries that he might be ashamed about her profession.
3. Disappointing Outcomes
The women have their aspirations, but the final phase of the film shows that things can only get worse for all five of them.
- Yorie soon returns to the brothel, having fled her failed marriage. It seems that her husband only wanted a housemaid and a cheap laborer for his clog-making operation.
- Mickey is visited by her father, who urges her to return home. He tells her that her mother recently died and that he has taken a new wife. But Mickey concludes that her father only wants her to return in order to uphold “face” for his business operations. So she renounces him and throws him out the door.
- Yumeko finally meets her son, but in an excellent 146-second shot, he tells her that she has humiliated him. Then he renounces her and says he never wants to see her again. So much for Yumeko’s long self-sacrificing efforts to financially support her son’s upbringing! The disappointment for Yumeko is so great that she soon lapses into madness and has to be taken to an asylum.
- Hanae learns from her dismal husband that they have been evicted from their flat, and so she now has to borrow more money to try to keep them going.
- The crafty Yasumi, who has wangled large sums from would-be fiances by leading them on, is finally seriously beaten up by one of them.
In the final shots Tatsuko is shown grooming and preparing an innocent newly recruited teenage virgin from the countryside for her new job as a prostitute. Like all the other women, the new girl has been socially compelled into this role by her family’s indebtedness. And so it goes.
“For the first time, you experience the fear of being on a train . . .
. . . with no possibility of getting off
. . . and no idea where the journey may end.”
“I shall now count from one to ten. On the count of ten, you will be in Europa.”
. . .
“You are in Germany. The year is 1945."
“You love her. . . .She is so strong and yet so vulnerable. . . “
. . .
”I want you to go forward in time. Go forward one month in time. Be there on the count of three. . . “
“You have carried out the orders. Now relax. . . . “
“Follow the river
As days go by.
Head for the ocean
That mirrors the sky.”
. . . .
“You want to wake up . . . to free yourself of the image of Europa. But it is not possible.”
“We can’t hold our government accountable, because we truly don’t know what it is doing.”★★★