Confession time: Much as I love mid-century Japanese cinema, Kenji Mizoguchi tends to leave me cold. Part of it might be because my expectations are too high — all of those “Sansho the Bailiff changed my life!” reviews were bound to set me up for a disappointment — but I think it’s more than that. I’ve seen nine of his movies now, and while they’re beautiful to look at, and they deal with important subjects, and the performances are good, and the stories are interesting, and I’ve never actually disliked any of them, I just have trouble connecting with them. Forgive my philistinism.
However, there’s one exception to the rule: Street of Shame. Mizoguchi’s last film, released in 1956, is about a group of prostitutes trying to make best of their lives and facing the possibility that their profession will be outlawed. It has much to recommend it, including a haunting final scene, but my favorite part is Mickey, played by Machiko Kyô.