For the enterprising geisha, the ability to afford a fetching Kimono can make the difference between landing that next client and having to go splitsies on tomorrow’s bowl of breakfast ramen. That’s why, when her older sister’s patron has gone bankrupt, Omocha, an indignant storm cloud of selfsame skill set and more ambitious career goals, takes matters into her own hands. Spurned and milked (of their money), a string of her customers catch on to the game. When they collude to take revenge, her mettle is put to its fiercest test yet.
Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sisters of the Gion depicts a probably too-familiar kind of modern depravity; it’s cornered between increasingly outmoded Japanese structures – lopsided gender roles, obsolete professions, and ancestral veneration – and adaptation born of an instinct for survival – in want of food, shelter, and a sense of security. In a particularly revealing shot, we’re shown Omacha loudly complaining to her sister about the disloyal, domineering, and inconstant nature of men, which is visually hole-punched by her hasty and irreverently executed bows to a series of Shinto shrines. The streets of Gion are cavernous and empty; here Mizoguchi rings out the unanswered, echoing call of a lone vendeuse. This inhospitable world provides a suitably dim backdrop against which Omacha’s tenacious and vibrant schemes pop delightfully.
- Sisters of the Gion (Mizoguchi 1936) @ BAM/PFA #JapaneseDivas