Sisters of the Gion (1937)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Starring: Isuzu Yamada (O-Mocha), Yôko Umemura (Umekichi), Benkei Shiganoya (Shimbei Furusawa), Eitarô Shindô (Kudo, the drygoods merchant), Taizô Fukami (Kimura), Fumio Okura (Jurakudo, the antiques dealer), Namiko Kawajima, Reiko Aoi.
Country: Japanese film with English subtitles, 66 minutes long.
The movie shows the condition of women in Japan in pre-WWII Japan, as seen through the eyes of two geisha sisters.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Mr. Furusawa has gone bankrupt and all his home furnishings are being auctioned off. He and his wife are very much at odds with each other and he heads over to see Umekichi, a geisha. She feels a great sense of obligation to him for his past good deeds to her. So Furusawa stays with Umekichi while Mrs. Furusawa heads back home. Omocha, the younger sister of Umekichi, is mad at her sister for letting Furusawa sponge off them and worsen their already precariousr financial situation. They are behind in their rent payments three or four months.
Omocha is very angry at men and the low status of women in Japan. She tells her sister that all men "make us playthings" and there are no exceptions. Umekichi protests that Mr. Furusawa helped her become a full-fledged geisha, but Omocha tells her that "all men are our enemies".
Omocha learns that Mr. Kimura likes her a great deal. She files this information away so that it may be used at another time. She goes to see the madam and explains to her that her sister wants to be in the Ofure dance in order that she may get a patron. The madam tells Omocha that her sister will have to get a new kimono to be in the dance. This will not be an easy task given their shortage of money. But Mr. Kimrua shows up and Omocha starts to use her feminine wiles on him. She gets the man to agree to get her sister a kimono worth 53 yen.
The drunken Mr. Jurakudo goes with Omocha to see Mr. Furusawa. Omocha uses the opportunity to convince Jurakudo that her sister wants to get rid of Furusawa and make him (Jurakudo) her new patron. She tells Jurakudo that she will have to have 100 yen from him in order to give it to Furusawa so that he can use the money to leave Umekichi's home. Jurakudo gives her the money.
Omocha gives 50 of the 100 yen to Furusawa and tells him to go home; she tells him that his presence is an economic drain on her and her sister and that her sister wants him to leave. Mr. Furusawa runs into his former clerk who gives him a place to stay. Umekichi is upset when she finds that Furusawa has left for home without telling her. She asks Omocha about it but Omocha lies and says that she did not say anything to Furusawa.
Mr. Kimura gets in trouble for using company supplies to make a kimono for Omocha and her sister. His boss, Mr. Kudo, figures out that he has fallen for some geisha who is probably playing him. He says he will go speak with the woman and check her out. Omocha talks with Mr. Kudo but denies that the kimono idea was hers. She tells him that Kimura offered her a kimono and she only took it because she did not have a patron and thus was in a bad economic situation. She then turns on the charm to seduce Kudo. She tells him that he should take care of her. He agrees. When Kudo sees his employee Kimura, he tells him that Omocha is not good enough for him and that he should stay away from her.
Omocha's plan is going very smoothly until Mr. Kimura decides to visit Omocha in defiance of his boss. Kimura runs into Furusawa on his way to Omocha's place. After speaking with Furusawa, he sees Umekichi and tells her about Mr. Furusawa. Umekichi immediately goes to see him, while Jurakudo tries in vain to stop her.
Kudo and Omocha find Kimura at Omocha's place. Kudo fires Kimura who now realizes that both his boss and his girlfriend have betrayed him. He is very angry but does leave.
Umekichi learns from Furusawa that Omocha had told him that her sister wanted him to leave and so he did. Furusawa asks Umekichi to live with him in his quarters and she agrees. This, of course, is very upsetting to Omocha and her plans.
Kimura now wants revenge. He telephones Mrs. Kudo and tells her all about her husband being a patron to the geisha Omocha in Gion. When her husband returns home, she balls him out.
Omocha is told that Mr. Kudo has sent the car for her. She gets in the back seat of the car only to find Kimura in the passenger seat along side of the driver. He tells her that he is a bitter man and that: "I'm going to pay you back what you deserve".
Umekichi learns that her sister has been badly hurt: "She was flung out of a car". At the hospital Umekichi scolds her sister saying that this is what becomes of women who treat men so cavalierly. But Omocha is still defiant and tells her sister: "Doing like you say is to lose to men!"
When Umekichi returns home she learns that Mr. Furusawa has gone home to be a manager of a rayon factory. She is very distraught over the news.
So now Umekichi has to take care of Omocha and neither of them have a patron. Omocha bemoans the status of women asking why are there geisha in the first place. She wishes they had never created geisha women.
Short movie, but pretty good. The status of women is so low that a talented and intelligent woman such as Omocha feels that the only option available to her to get ahead and make a decent life for herself is to use her feminine wiles to trick and manipulate men so that she can get what she wants. She really becomes a con-woman lying to almost anybody who plays a significant role in her life. Her house of lies turns into a house of cards and tumbles in on her. I never really felt that Omocha was an evil person, but rather felt a bit sorry for her for having to use chicanery to survive as an unmarried woman in Japan. Her lies are so extreme and so many that you kind of know that she is going to get caught and end up creating a worse rather than a better life for herself and her sister.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See Memoirs of a Geisha (2005).
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