In the post-war Gion district of Kyoto, the geisha Miyoharu agrees to apprentice the 16 year-old Eiko, whose mother was a former geisha who had just died. After a year of training they have to find a large sum of money before Eiko can debut. Miyoharu borrows the money from the tea-house owner, Okimi, who in turn obtains the money from the businessman Kusuda. Kusuda fancies Eiko himself and wants to give Miyoharu to Kanzaki in order to close a large business deal. However both geishas have minds of their own and, going against tradition, want to be able to say no to clients. Written by Will Gilbert
Another masterpiece about geishas, this time about the fall of the tradition and how it is turning into just your average prostitution. What makes this film so great (a side from the visuals) is that there is a beautiful depiction of hope in it.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON. The hope here is that these two woman are going to take care of each other. Yes, they are going to have to bow into the dirt and do things against their will but they are at the same time not going to be turned against each other, like in other geisha films where the younger one takes over and the older one is left in the cold. No, here the older one is going to help the younger one and we know she is going to do the same once the older one can't anymore. It is a film about true friendship, where honesty, love and sacrifice means something. Love it.
A strong drama which, as so often with Mizoguchi, explores the plight of women within patriarchal Japanese society and it's accompanying institutions and traditions. The contemporary setting lends great weight to the themes of self-determination, emotion and physical prostitution, and women's rights.
It's a daring film, despite alleged studio intervention (Tony Rayns, as always, excellent in contextualising 'Gion Bayashi' in the DVD extras), and contains surprising bite for a film of this period. The changing role of a Geisha could be taken as representative of the changes in traditional Japanese society at the time: traditionally hired for their musical and dance abilities, now they are increasingly seen just as prostitutes. Or perhaps it is more a comment on something which…
A more down to earth and believable film than Sansho Dayu, this story of a young Geisha was likely pretty hard hitting for 1953, and remains desperately sad thanks to the skillful and realistic performances.