Sunday, August 21, 2005


Yoko Uemura (left) and Isuza Yamada in Sisters of Gion. Posted by Picasa

Another week, another hard-to-find Japanese movie at the Cinematheque Ontario, Sisters of Gion from 1936. (My thanks to Alex for pointing this out on the schedule.) If the Siren has a favorite Japanese movie director, it is probably Kenji Mizoguchi. His movies are gorgeous, emotional and a useful counterexample for anyone who maintains men are incapable of understanding women. This film makes brilliant use of the narrow walkways and crazy-quilt construction of the Gion quarter of prewar Kyoto, evoking a beautiful but cramped and complicated world. Sisters tells the story of two geisha. The older sister (Yoko Umemura) clings to tradition and selflessly devotes herself to a bankrupt former patron. The younger (Isuza Yamada, in a flawless performance) views men as vile, declares that she owes them nothing and will use any means available to secure a comfortable life for herself. For much of the brief movie you enjoy watching this latter-day Becky Sharp connive on nothing a year. But Mizoguchi is a social critic, not a satirist like Thackeray. In the end, it becomes heartbreakingly clear why the younger geisha is named Omocha, which translates as "toy."

2 comments:

Diane said...

OK, I'm convinced. We are film twins. First, Ophuls and now this--I LOVE Mizoguchi. He is certainly my favorite Japanese director. I am so glad you got to see this gem in your area. How wonderful. I loved Yamada in this movie. She is also pitch-perfect in Naniwa Ereji (Osaka Elegy), in which she plays a young woman pushed to prostitution to save her ruined family, who then reject her.

As you can see, I can post again. Yippers!

Campaspe said...

Osaka Elegy is one I haven't seen. I have yet to see a Mizoguchi I didn't think was brilliant. They had a retrospective of him (mid-90s?) a while ago and I saw Ugetsu, Life of Oharu, Street of Shame and A Geisha. He is shockingly unavailable on DVD. But hey, if we want Baise-Moi on DVD we're all set. **grinds teeth**