Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai) (1936)
Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai) Photos
Critic Reviews for Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai)
The great Japanese director followed his tough-minded Osaka Elegy with an equally forceful but more subtle analysis of female subjugation.
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.
This elegant, carefully directed tale shows Mizoguchi's early talents.
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.
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.
"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.
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