Sisters of the Gion
(Gion no Shimai)
With Isuzu Yamada, Yoko Umemura.
Japan, 1936, 35mm, black & white, 96 min.
Japanese with English subtitles.
Mizoguchi’s first-hand knowledge of Kyoto’s legendary Gion district, which he regularly patronized during his many years in the city, is apparent in Sisters of the Gion’s scrupulous, almost documentary, attention to the nuanced details which reveal the stark reality of the modern-day geisha’s grueling work and life. Izumu Yamada bristles with steely determination as a outspokenly modern geisha who views the world through a jaundiced and always questioning eye yet still struggles desperately to help her beloved sister avoid the same pattern of abuse and degradation which Mizoguchi’s angry and sobering film makes clear is the lot of too many Japanese women. Mizoguchi’s only work to win the coveted Kinema Junpo Best Film of the Year Award, Sisters of the Gion ignited a fierce debate about the place of the geisha within modern Japan. An early expression of Mizoguchi’s expressive camera, here extended tracking shots are used to poetically reveal women’s ultimate marginality in a world always drifting away from them.