Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai) - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai) Reviews

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December 15, 2016
Another expertly filmed working-class entry in Kenji Mizoguchi's filmography, though it comes with a more run-of-the-mill, partially unsatisfactory story.
July 31, 2014
While Osaka Elegy is a flawed, but terrific peek into the early works of Kenji Mizoguchi, it's here, with Sisters Of The Gion, where we get to see where despite so early on his career, we see a work of utter greatness along with one of his more scathing critiques of society and how it treats women. Sisters Of The Gion may be a short film (69 minutes), but as a drama and as a hallmark in the history of Japanese cinema, it is indeed among the greatest in both said categories.

The story focuses on two geisha sisters: Umekichi, a traditional geisha who believes in respecting her questionable clientele, and Omocha, a strong-minded, modern geisha who abhors how men treat women in their profession and uses their weakness for the beauty of women to her advantage by taking her out to dinner, getting her nice clothes, etc.

Things change for the sisters when Umekichi's old patron who got her started as a geisha goes out of business and moves in with them, much to the annoyance of Omocha, who wants nothing to do with him. After she gets him to leave, she nabs a wealthy patron who funds her wants and needs, while also stringing along other patrons, including a clerk at a kimono shop who almost loses his job because of her, and even his own boss becomes a patron of hers after seeing her briefly.

However, Omocha's ways begin to catch up with her when her sister moves out after finding out she was responsible for her former patron leaving and moving in with him, the clerk at the kimono shop not only plans revenge against his boss, but her as well when he kidnaps her and throws her out of the car, severely injuring her.

The world of the two sisters, regardless of different methods of thinking, is crushed by the deception of men and their darker natures.

The story is really quite interesting, and manages to pack a great deal into a very short running time. Somehow, despite being on 69 minutes in length, the story manages to develop its characters very well and makes them feel alive and real, especially as they go through their harsh struggles and realities. It's a story that indeed will have the viewer emotionally-invested in everything that happens, especially with its thoughts on human nature. It's not just a women-centric film, but it has a lot to say about our desires, are darker natures, what we do to survive, and much more. It's really quite compelling and gives your brain a lot to feed on and process.

The acting, as expected in a Kenji Mizoguchi film, is top notch. Isuzu Yamada as Omocha is the one who really steals the show in this film as her character dares to break out of the mold of women in her profession and what she does to survive and give her lowly life pleasure from those who abuse and use her. The rest of the acting is also pretty stellar, but it's the superb performance by the lead actress that will have you glued to your seat.

Sisters Of The Gion is a masterpiece not only in Japanese cinema, but in the history of dramas. It's a film where despite a simple premise and a short running time, it accomplishes a great deal and has many things to say about society, along with a number of other themes. If you love a good Japanese film, this one is indeed worth seeing.
February 28, 2014
Good but really only shows the promise that was fulfilled in his later work.
½ December 29, 2013
While Sisters of the Gion may not be as dramatically satisfying as one hoped, there is no denying the power of Mizoguchi's vehement assault on traditional Japanese culture as misogynistic and cruel.
December 27, 2013
The life of two sisters working in the licensed redlight district of Kyoto. One of the most impactful and realistic films of pre-war Japan that regardless of its brevity manages to squeeze in a remarkable amount of Japanese culture of the time and denounce the treatment of women. Mizoguchi strengthens his style of fixed long shots and long sequence takes to portray his story.
½ September 28, 2013
Fascinating drama of two geishas in pre-WWII Japan.
Super Reviewer
April 10, 2012
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.
Super Reviewer
½ December 6, 2011
Made in the same year as Osaka Elegy, the second of four films in Criterion Collection's "Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women" series. Ishizu Yamada plays a rather cold hearted and completely selfish geisha who deceives everyone she knows, including her older sister, in order to attain financial stable. Ultimately, she ends up paying the price for all of her conniving trickery. Throughout the film, she has a very anti-male stance which her sister doesn't agree with. Mizoguchi style develops more from Osaka Elegy, but I feel his style is sacrificed here a bit for the sake of telling the story. Which is not at all a criticism because there are rich characters in this great story. This film features more overt social commentary and definitely more obvious existential ending. I just wanted to see something more along the lines of Osaka Elegy and I feel what was different from that film to this one was a bigger focus on a feminist agenda. That took away from the film just a bit because the message became obvious and was emphasized too many times. This was still an interesting exploration of desperation and the consequences of greed.
November 22, 2011
An interesting pre-war Japanese movie about Geisha sister's. One of the sister's doesn't want to be a Geisha and downgrade men generally.
May 16, 2011
Quite short and surprisingly dull, Mizoguchi takes his audience to nowhere near his supposedly main objective: the role of geisha.
April 17, 2011
Excellent film, and it's incredible to think that it was made in 1936. I suppose it's not fair to compare with Western prudishness, and in some ways it's a natural outgrowth of traditions like Bunraku, but in others still stunningly modern for the time. After having had to try to give the "African Queen" the benefit of the doubt for its vintage not long ago, it's telling to compare with this.
April 13, 2011
My awe of the limitlessness of Kenji Mizoguchi's visual creativity is once again renewed. This, one of his earliest sound films, is so filled with lively movement that it gives the tragic plot a pulse that keeps us connected to these selfish characters. The two leads, who play the title sisters, demand both empathy and pity as they burn through lusty men in the pursuit of the fattest wallet; Mizoguchi is careful with the subject of prostitution here as he always is- as an unfortunate and disturbing human role but also one that must be taken seriously, one that people must be a part of to survive. His camera work is nothing short of stunning; effortless tracking shots and complex framing make the world around the subjects as interesting as they are.
March 25, 2011
one of those films where it's pretty good for most of it (and it's a short feature-length film really) and in the last ten minutes it shows its true colors. some of the dialog is a little too on-the-nose, but the direction really carries so much of this through with deep focus and long takes and compositions that make me giddy as I sit there at serious subject matter like pre-WW2 Japanese Feminism.
December 7, 2010
Not the best of Mizoguchi. A bit weak in story, but good cinematography for a movie in the 30's.
½ July 13, 2010
May 26, 2010
Highly recommended. Its compacted narrative and stunning cinematography makes this seem fresher than most movies made today.
January 22, 2010
Kenji Mizoguchi is my favorite Japanese director. For that reason, I wanted to love the "Fallen Women" collection released by Criterion. I've been a bit underwhelmed thus far (this is the second of the four for me), but perhaps I am being unfair. I can't help but stack these short films up against such cinematic greatness as Sansh day and Ugetsu monogatari. However, I give Mizoguchi due props for creating a collection of films that highlight the various plights of post-war Japanese women.
½ November 5, 2009
Eh...not fun to watch, but you can appreciate the filmmaking i guess.
½ September 23, 2009
The story of two geisha sisters, one caring and loyal, the other manipulative and opportunistic. As you can imagine with Mizoguchi, neither approach works out that well for them. This doesn't have the emotional impact (or the technical ability) of later films like A Geisha or Life of Oharu, but it's pretty sophisticated for 1936. It seems rather simple and drab to begin with, but gradually builds into something more thoughtful and moving.
Super Reviewer
August 13, 2009
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.
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