Watching this movie almost makes me feel like delivering an apology to Mizoguchi. Thanks to the wonderful Masters of Cinema releases of his movies I've been slowly working my way through his late period movies. I love them, but I felt that the failure of so many was an excessive formality - a feeling that his characters were not real people, more symbols of various levels of society. This movie is totally different, it is packed with wonderfully realized, vivid characterizations. Ironically, its his last film, but rather than being a swansong it was absolutely cutting edge - the film has a thoroughly modern feel to it, even down to its weirdly avant garde music (the one thing about it I have to say grated with me). And I understand it was one of his biggest commercial hits, a huge success in its day. The story follows a group of prostitutes in 'Dreamland' a typical brothel of its day in the nighttime quarter of Toyko, shortly before they were made illegal. At the time, brothels were seen as mildly disreputable, but still legitimate businesses. The women work 'voluntarily', but most are trapped due to debts and poverty. They range from the tough, selfish and westernized 'Mickey', a wonderful Machiko Kyo (unrecognizable from the ghost in Ugetsu), the very beautiful Ayako Wakao as the angelic looking but thoroughly ruthless Yasumi, Aiko Mimasu as the aging Yumeko, and a variety of other characters, all without exception wonderful and believable performances. While humanizing all his characters, Mizuguchi doesn't pull punches about the desperate poverty of the time and the dire straits the women are in. The brothel owner repeatedly insists he is like a social worker, looking after poor women - and he is so convincing he believes it himself. The script never falls into the trap of didactic sermonizing, it simply lets the stories speak for themselves. Maybe Mizoguchi, who was no stranger to brothels in his private life had deeply ambiguous feelings for them himself. Its interesting to compare this movie to another similar one of this period (and a personal favourite of mine) - Mikio Naruse's 'Flowing', which is much less direct and harsh, with more of an air of sadness at how a part of Japanese society was fading away - but then again, that film was set in a more genteel upmarket geisha house. This is an immensely fine movie - structurally its amazing that such a complex story with so many characters could be so convincingly told in a relatively short run time - a lesson to all modern film makers. Its absolutely riveting and a masterclass in film making and acting. But as a final point, films like this are often difficult to end - there is no clear way of finishing a story without a clear narrative arc and how many times have we all seen great movies that let us down with a contrived or poorly thought through ending? I won't give it away, but the ending of 'Akasen Chitai' is quite unexpected and absolutely devastating. Its starkness should by rights leave it up there with the famous last scene in '400 Blows' as one of the greatest in cinema history.