With Kinuyo Tanaka, Isuzu Yamada, Hideko Takamine.
Japan, 1956, 35mm, black & white, 117 min.
Japanese with English subtitles.
Print source: The Japan Foundation
Released the same year as Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame, Naruse’s film takes a quieter and at first, seemingly more neutral approach to the same subject—the melancholy and exploitative floating world of prostitution in the last years that it was still legal in Japan. Renowned as perhaps the greatest director of “women’s pictures” in the Japanese cinema, Naruse uses a declining geisha house as the stage for an intergenerational portrayal of exploitation and resistance that never allows the women to simply be victims but instead amplifies and explores their complex agency. While Tanaka plays an older and preternaturally competent maid newly arrived on the scene who acts as a detached observer of the multiple intertwined dramas unfolding before her, she remains the most enigmatic of the characters, hinting at a past that is never fully revealed.