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   Now in our eleventh calendar year
    PCR #550  (Vol. 11, No. 41)  This edition is for the week of October 4--10, 2010.

"Life As We Know It"  by Mike Smith
The Works of John Randal McDonald, Part Three -- Long Overdue Recognition  by William Moriaty
Friday the 13th: 30th Anniversary  by ED Tucker
Sisters of Gion (1936)  by Jason Fetters
Passing On .... Greg's Back .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith

Sisters of Gion (1936)

Director Kenji Mizoguchi, has created the quintessential Geisha movie in Sisters of Gion from 1936. What you won't find in Mizoguchi's movie, is none of the Hollywood fluff that went into Memoirs of a Geisha. There is no pan-Asian cast. There are not Hollywood sets designed in Northern California to look like Kyoto. There is no overbearing soundtrack. What you will find is a realistic look at actual Geisha life, in a movie produced at the time that geisha were really active.

It is interesting to note that both Memoirs of a Geisha and Sisters of Gion do share one element in common. Both were movies made from novels written by Western writers. Sisters of Gion is based on the novel, Yama (The Pit), by Russian author, Aleksandr Kuprin. That is where the similarities end.

Mizoguchi has all the elements in place to show what geisha life was really like. The Gion district of Kyoto was famous for tea houses, expensive restaurants, and the patrons of high society. All is beautifully crafted in Sisters of Gion. What makes the movie truly a gem is that it was made in the 30's, therefore, it has no historical inaccuracies. Nothing is out of place, or created on a Hollywood back lot by artists who put their own ideas into what the 30's would be like. This sitting is the perfect atmosphere to capture geisha on film.

The movie starts with two sisters, Umekichi and Omocha. Umekichi is the older sister who knows how to treat her patrons well through her skills in music and dancing. She represents all the good qualities that people expect from geisha such as politeness and conversation. Her sister, Omocha says to Umekichi how much she hates men. Omocha hates being a Geisha and is out for herself. Despite her beauty, she does not have a rich patron to care for her and invest money into improving her skills like singing and dancing lessons. She only wants to use men to get what she wants. Omocha represents a negative image of geisha life.

Omocha's hatred of men causes her to lie to a kimono maker, to get a free kimono for her sister. Omocha promises to give her love and care to the kimono maker, which she never does. The kimono maker's boss finds out that a geisha was given an expensive kimono that no money was paid for. So the maker visits Omocha, hoping that she will help him out with his angry boss. She blackmails the maker and seduces his boss. The boss fires the kimono maker and begins to be Omocha's patron. Until everything going horribly wrong for both the boss and Omocha. The kimono maker phones the boss's wife to tell her that she is being cheated on. This quite naturally angers his wife and the boss quits being Omocha's patron. Then the maker abducts Omocha and has her thrown from a taxi. The incident nearly cripples her. Due to Omocha's hatred, she is last shown bitter, lying in a bed, and hating her profession as a geisha who is trapped in a male dominated world. The downbeat ending works very well here.

The geisha life is not all about looking pretty and being an accomplished artist who is highly skilled in a variety of arts. It is very much a business where geisha must find and secure a patron to have any chance of success. Without a rich patron, the only option is failure and a life of suffering.

It is interesting to note that Mizoguchi's Sisters of Gion is an early feminist movie that was made in male dominated Japan so long ago. His attention to detail and his skills as a director really keep the movie flowing. Despite a 1 hour and 9-minute running time, Sisters of Gion has more to say about the geisha life than perhaps any other movie made in Japan or anywhere else.

This is essential viewing for anyone curious about a realistic depiction of geisha.

Highly Recommended: 5 stars out of 5.

To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "The Asian Aperture" is ©2010 by Jason Fetters. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.