In post-war Japan, sixteen-year-old Eiko seeks out the geisha Miyoharu in the district of Gion, in Kyoto asking her to be a maiko (geisha apprentice). Eiko explains that her mother - who was a geisha and Miyoharu's friend - has just died, her father Sawamoto has failed in business, and her uncle is harassing her. Miyoharu is a warm-hearted woman and accepts to train her. One year later, Eiko's father refuses to be her guarantor and Miyoharu borrows a large amount from the tea-house owner Okimi to buy her kimono and debut in a party. Miyoharu changes Eiko's name to Miyoe and introduces her to clients as her sister. Soon, Miyoharu is charged for the money but neither she nor Miyoe want to have patrons.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Brian McInnis
There may be an element of atonement in Mizoguchi's films about exploited women. It is most powerful in "Street of Shame" but plays a role in "Gion bayashi" as well. The exploiters are bad indeed, though Mizoguchi gives them humanizing motivations; the exploited, while not too good to be true, are much better than most of the people I know.
What makes this visually beautiful film unforgettable and worthy of repeated viewing is, first, the evolving relationship between Older and Younger Sister, which is sufficiently imitative of life to satisfy the most rigorous champion of Kurosawa's "Lower Depths." As life happens, these two women evolve. It is this evolution which is the secret heart of "Gion Festival Music." Second, importantly, it is the nuanced, understated, but heroic performance of Michiyo Kogure as Miyoharu. Her artistry becomes manifest when her character portrait here is compared to her equally successful role of Taeko in Ozu's "Flavor of Green Tea over Rice," made the year before. The two women could not be more different, and she accomplishes the differences with bare flickers of change across her face and almost imperceptible alterations in body language.
These qualities inspire me to forgive the overly schematic plot and excessively contrasting portraits of the very good and the very bad.
At the end "Gion Festival Music," "A Geisha," or whatever title translation one wishes to use, is not principally about the cruel exploitation of women. The film has a secret. It is a love story. And I love this movie.
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