Duality and Ambiguity: Prostitution, Performance and the Vagaries of Modernity in Japanese Cinema
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This essay considers the representation of prostitutes in three Japanese films all made at a key historical juncture in the mid-1950s, when prostitution was on the cusp of being outlawed in Japan. It draws on representations of sex workers in Japanese art to argue that complex images of prostitutes—both negative and positive—can be seen to play a crucial role in understanding Japan’s rapid modernization and Westernization during the post-WWII era. It considers how such representations focus and frame questions of and concerns over contemporary gender roles, and also explores the duality of—and ambiguous difference between—the figures of the geisha and the prostitute as they are often perceived in the West.