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Japan 1953
Directed by
Kenji Mizoguchi
90 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Geisha, A

If you wanted to understand what geishas are about you could do worse than watch Kenji Mizoguchi’s film about the friendship between two women, Miyoharu (Michiyo Korgure), an older geisha around 30 years of age, and 16-year-old Eiko (Ayako Wakao) whom Miyoharu agrees to train in the profession after the death of Eiko's mother, a former geisha who'd been Miyoharu's friend.

Both Miyoharu and Eiko come from poor circumstances with Eiko being estranged from her penurious and ailing father and having left the house where she lived with her uncle after he insisted she sleep with him to pay off debts from her mother’s funeral.  Although Miyoharu has adapted to the fact that geisha culture has degenerated into an escort service for well-heeled businessmen, Eiko believes that it is a respectable, indeed artistic profession ('geisha' is made up of two words 'gei' which means 'art" and 'sha' which means 'person') but when on her first job she is expected to submit to her client’s demand for sex she refuses him, biting him so badly that he has to go to hospital. As a result both she and Miyoharu who is also refusing a prospective patron are barred from "parties" by Okimi (Chieko Naniwa) who effectively runs the service.

Adapted from a novel by Matsutaro Kawaguchi and set in the aftermath of World War II when women's attitudes about their time-honoured roles are beginning to change, a subject that Mizoguchi would go onto explore in Her Mother’s Profession (1954) and his last film, Street Of Shame (1956), A Geisha is a revealing study of both the then modern day business realities of the geisha industry and the growing friendship between the two women as Miyoharu supports Eiko in her principled stance.

Set largely in the Gion district of Kyoto with events framed by in classically Japanese interiors with their shoji screens and tatami mats or amongst the narrow overhung streets of the district with the geishas in their glorious kimonos A Geisha (the film’s Japanese title translates as Gion Festival Music) is both an engagingly simple story and an interesting piece of social history.




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