Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sisters of Gion, Japanese Film 1937

In my History of Film class, we have a research paper to do on Japanese film and culture. I want to do my paper on women and feminist issues. Here's a fascinating pre-war film made in 1937 by Kenji Mizoguchi, based on a novel by, Alexander Ivanovich Kurpin, which is ahead of it's time. The film addresses feminist issues, long before feminism.


I was captivated by it all the way through, and left wanting more at it's conclusion. Black and white film and photography leaves a lot to the imagination, creates a mysterious visual environment of shadow and light. The eye and attention is not distracted by special effects or colour, your focus is on the simple power of the image and the story.


I watched the complete film at University yesterday however you can access and watch this film in it's entirety on You Tube. I am going to watch it again today!

Gion no Shimai, 1936
[Sisters of the Gion]

Shiganoya/UmemuraSisters of the Gion recounts the story of two geisha sisters in the working class district of Gion. The elder sister, Umekichi (Yoko Umemura) is old-fashioned and traditional, and believes in the loyal duty of a geisha to her patron. Her younger sister named Omocha (Isuza Yamada), which literally means "plaything", is modern and unsentimental, and casually exploits her influence on men in order to improve her quality of life. Upon hearing that a young textile salesman has fallen in love with her, Omocha persuades the gullible Kimura (Taizo Fukami) to embezzle materials for a proper kimono so that Umekichi may attend an exclusive social event and network among wealthy potential patrons. Inevitably, the disparate ideologies of the two sisters collide when Umekichi's bankrupt patron, Shimbei Furusawa (Benkei Shiganoya) seeks refuge in their house after a quarrel with his wife. Umekichi believes that she is obligated to help the destitute Furusawa in return for his past patronage. Omocha, on the other hand, sees Furusawa as an intrusive burden to their modest life, and persuades an amenable curio dealer, Jurakuso (Fumio Okura), to invest money towards Furusawa's eviction in order to secure his arranged patronage with Umekichi. However, despite Umekichi's selfless devotion and Omocha's underhanded machinations, the sisters find that true love is an elusive concept in the life of a geisha.
From the opening composite long shot of the Furusawa household, as the camera traverses from a public auction, to a shot of Furusawa and his assistant, and finally to the image of Furusawa's wife packing, Kenji Mizoguchi creates a chaotic and disorienting portrait of love, duty, and opportunism in Sisters of the Gion. Using successive short takes, medium shots, and unusual camera angles, Mizoguchi visually isolates the characters from their environment. The recurrent imagery of fragmented space further reflects the impermanence and dynamic instability of the geisha trade: an inebriated Jurakuso passes through a series of seemingly discontinuous spaces before reaching the living room; Furusawa's relocation of a partition screen during Jurakuso's visit; the claustrophobic shot-reverse shot dialogue between Omocha and Kimura in a hired car. Inevitably, Sisters of the Gion demystifies the exoticism and romantic ideals of contemporary geisha life and exposes the imbalancing entropy and transience of an existence bound in the underlying artifice of mercantile love.

2 comments:

Indigene said...

I'm always amazed at the complexities and challenges women face; it goes to show you how powerful we are, when we recognize it! Thanks for sharing this!

Little Iron Horse said...

Indigene,
I have been thinking about your comment and it was niggling at me because I wanted to say something about this film in response but it didn't come until today.

This film was ahead of it's time but you know it makes me realize what a fight women have had and continue to have. It is one thing recognizing our power and another being able to exercise it. The older I get the more of a feminist I become, and this is a good thing!

Next term I am taking an Art History course about, Women in Art. It will be the second one I have taken at the University level, the first one was back in the mid 70s. It will be very interesting to see what it will entail in 2012, 30 years later!