Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai) (1936)



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Movie Info

Along with Osaka Elegy (1936), Sisters of the Gion is widely considered one of Kenji Mizoguchi's finest prewar films. The movie takes a realistic look at the life of a geisha in Kyoto's Gion district. Omocha is a geisha with "modern girl" sensibilities; she resents the way that men callously treat women, and she is inclined to ignore the traditions and expectations of her profession. She sets out to beat men at their own game, jumping from patron to patron (a no-no in the geisha business) in order to attain money, nice clothes, and fancy meals. In the process, she deceives and ruins a bumbling, though sincere, store clerk. Her sister Umekichi, on the other hand, possesses all the qualities of the legendary geisha. In spite of Omocha's mockery, she remains devoted to her bankrupt former patron. Eventually, the wronged store clerk exacts revenge against Omocha, landing her in the hospital, while Umekichi's patron abandons her, returning to his wife. As in much of his oeuvre, Mizoguchi shows a deep sensitivity towards the plight of women in society and, as in much of his postwar work, he emphasizes the inevitability of fate. Neither Omocha's guile nor Umekichi's loyalty can do much to alter their cruel predicaments; however, this acknowledgement of their fate yields little of the transcendence seen in such later films as Life of Oharu (1955). ~ Jonathan Crow, Rovi


Critic Reviews for Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai)

All Critics (9) | Top Critics (3)

The great Japanese director followed his tough-minded Osaka Elegy with an equally forceful but more subtle analysis of female subjugation.

Feb 26, 2013 | Full Review…

Superbly acted, shot and scripted, this is searing stuff.

Jul 7, 2010 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

The masterpiece of Kenji Mizoguchi's prewar period.

Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

It is a brief movie, which is impressive considering how much of Japanese culture its critique assults, but it must be conceded that it loses a little of its potential richness as a result.

Feb 15, 2009 | Rating: 70/100 | Full Review…

This elegant, carefully directed tale shows Mizoguchi's early talents.

Jan 11, 2008 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

This is a touching and comedic film.

Jun 22, 2004 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai)

Early Mizoguchi film that deals with one of his usual themes: the social issue of geishas. The film is as simple and logical as an enlightenment novel regarding plot: there are two sisters, diametrically different in character, in the same situation (they are both geishas) and each deals with it her own way (the younger hates men, is cynical and wants revenge for the position she is in; the older is more stoical, cares about the feelings of others and wants to please them and she loves a man who abandons her in the end) . The film ends with a shot that frames the two of them after they realized that both reached the same dead-end after following different paths. The camera zooms in the face of the younger one who is lying on the hospital bed, while she speaks a monologue that conveys directly this dead-end and all the issues the film is concerned with (''Why is there such a profession as the geisha's at all?''). This final monologue, while it's a bit awkward in its directness and feels like the melodramatic social awareness disrupts the fiction and becomes a message for the viewer, it is also touching because of the building up of the drama up to that point. At least it's not as embarassing as Chaplin's The Great Dictator final monologue though there is a certain relation. The cinematography is wonderful at times with subtle camera movements and very atmospheric use of black and white. Some nice camera angles help evoke the feeling of the pleasure quarters of Japan at the time and also some night scenes of the city are really good. Very good performances that shine despite the lack of close ups. Mizoguchi seems to like taking a distance from the emotions and let the actions of the body speak for itself. This style is linked to the social awareness of his films as, despite the melodramatic plot, the distance manages to frame relations between individuals and not intensified individual feelings; it is a non-melodramatic style for melodramatic plots. This lack of close ups also intensifies the final zoom in as it takes greater significance. The film is not as rich as the later great works of Mizoguchi as it seems pretty straightforward, but it still holds much power and indicates what would follow after the war.

George Matalliotakis
George Matalliotakis

Super Reviewer

A kindhearted geisha takes in a former client who has fallen on hard times, prompting her younger sister to seek wealthy patronage by fair means or foul. Who will prosper, the generous or the greedy sister? Well, neither one actually, which is precisely the point that Mizoguchi is making here: honourable or selfish, the geisha will be exploited just the same; she cannot win. The ending, a passionate tirade against the continuing existence of geisha girls in Japanese society, is bleak and powerful, but the male bad behaviour that sets it up feels a mite forced and unconvincing, out of character even. The two women are great though, especially Omocha (Isuzu Yamada), the younger sister, whose femme fatale-like duplicity drives the narrative. Lovely camerawork.

Stephen M
Stephen M

Super Reviewer


"Sisters of the Gion" starts with an auction for the stock in the store owned by Furusawa(Benkei Shiganoya), a formerly wealthy merchant, now bankrupt. Instead of moving to the country with his family, he decides to shack up with his geisha Umekichi(Yoko Umemura). Despite her and her sister O-Mocha(Isuzu Yamada) being broke themselves, she takes him in, feeling she has an obligation for the patron who paved the way for her to become a full-fledged geisha. O-Mocha begs to disagree, already angling to get an expensive kimono out of Kimura(Taizo Fukami), an admirer who works in a fabric store, so her sister can perform at a banquet. "Sisters of the Gion" is a pointed look at how economic circumstances affect a person's decisions. Yes, O-Mocha may seem cold-blooded but everything she does is to make a living for her and Umekichi who does the right thing by taking in Furusawa but at the wrong time when they cannot afford to. And it is Furusawa who is the villain for turning his back on his family to put such a burden on the sisters.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer


in many ways an interesting tale of two sisters who are geisha, one is kind and intentional towards her feelings and the other cruel, selfish, and out to get hers. the film doesnt overly flesh out its conflict but the cinematography was solid for a 70 year old film. not great by any means but a solid watch if youre a fan of mizoguchi.

danny d
danny d

Super Reviewer

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