Kenji Mizoguchi's favorite theme is the condition/behavior of women in society, psychologically as well as socially. In 'Street of Shame', he evokes masterfully the socio-economic condition of the geishas in Japanese society. Here, he brushes a psychological portrait of two women through their `ghosts' (`even the most beautiful silks fade'), which reveal diametrically opposite comportments: an obsessed seductress and a faithful wife.
Based on two stories of Akinari's 'Tales of Moonlight and Rain' ('The Serpent's Lust' and 'The ReedChoked House'), a ghost of a young lady seeks to live 'the ardent love on earth', while a faithful wife became a ghost in order to be able to await faithfully the return of her husband. In other words, the main theme is the dichotomy between sex and love.
The overall background of the stories is a Japan ravaged by clan wars.
As for the men, they are stupid, but full of ambition to profit from the 'God of War', one as a warrior and the other as a potter/trader.
This magnificent movie nevertheless doesn't reach the same superb level as 'Street of Shame'. In addition, Akinari's book with its meditations on religious and artistic themes is richer and more profound than the movie.