A Geisha (1953) Poster


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The Secret Heart of an Imperfect Film
heliotropetwo16 July 2006
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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Superb, subtle Mizoguchi drama
fwmurnau29 July 2004
I liked this better than the more schematic SISTERS OF THE GION. This story of an established geisha who takes on a younger one as a sort of apprentice has engaging characters and a quiet, low-key, intimate realism that's highly effective.

Since it's Mizoguchi, you know the direction, casting, lighting, sets, framing -- all the mise en scene -- are exquisitely sensitive and artistic. The acting is excellent, subtle and believable. Everything is "right", one might even say "perfect" -- an adjective one is tempted to apply to this director's work at its best. Every shot is beautifully, often breath-takingly conceived and executed.

The glimpses this film gives of the rigorous training and daily life of traditional geishas are a big plus that adds greatly to its interest.

Mizoguchi made poetry with a movie camera, and I would call A GEISHA one of his best films.
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The Life of a Geisha
claudio_carvalho22 June 2013
In the post-war, the sixteen year-old teenager Eiko (Ayako Wakao) seeks out the geisha Miyoharu (Michiyo Kogure) in the district of Gion, in Kyoto asking her to be a "maiko" (apprentice of geisha). Eiko explains that her mother, who was a geisha and Miyoharu's friend, has just passed away; her father Sawamoto (Eitarô Shindô) 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 (Chieko Naniwa) to buy her kimono and debut in a party. Miyoharu changes Eiko's name to Miyoe and introduces the teenager to clients as her sister. Soon Miyoharu is charged for the money but neither she nor Miyoe wants to have patrons.

"Gion bayashi", a.k.a. "A Geisha", shows the life of geisha in the early 50's as exploited women without other alternative in life but pleasing clients, no matter how abusive they can be. The cruel system imposes an initial debt of a large amount to someone in order that the woman becomes slave of the "tea-house owner', or a businessman that may become his "patron" and is almost impossible to leave the prostitution. Both lead characters are strong women bowed by the system. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): Not Available.
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A GEISHA is after all, one of Mizoguchi's best and rightly deserves the garland
lasttimeisaw7 July 2017
A GEISHA is Miyagawa's late stage threnody with regard to those he has been steadily paying commiserations through his formidable cannon, namely, ordinary lives on the low-rung.

The English title may misguide audience by implying a young geisha's Bildungsroman in the Post- WWII Japan, that is quite right, but it only constitutes half of the story. In the beginning we are introduced to a 16-year-old Eiko (Wakao), arrives in Kyoto's Gion district and entreats named geisha Miyoharu (Kogure) to take her in as an apprentice. Eiko is saddled with her own tale of woe, his mother, a formal geisha and Miyoharu's friend, died young, her father Sawamoto (Shindô), a businessman on his irretrievable downturn, doesn't want anything to do with her. So being a geisha is her only outlet in this callous world and she takes great pride in this line-of-work, which is referred as "living works of art, intangible cultural assets" by her trainer, and resolves to not let anything cripple her work ethic, which means she will do best to please her patrons but will not be foisted into prostitution. She knows nothing about the delicate sex politics of the demimonde, so we need another character to tread into the underbelly.

Miyoharu, who gives us a first impression of materialistic and impassive when she rebuffs a client who cannot afford her service (for three months indeed), lends herself on a mother-sister figure towards the young and imprudent Eiko, and through her tactful mediation and altruistic deeds, she manages to give Eiko a decent debut merely after one-year of training, and immediately Eiko gets the attention of the district's biggest patron Kusuda (Kawazu), who is habitually prefers new blood, whereas Kanzaki (Koshiba), Kusuda's young business associate, has a different taste in women, and takes a liking to Miyoharu.

Only if both Eiko and Miyoharu would settle for these unsavory but finance-secured arrangements, there would be no kerfuffle ensuing. What happens next is inevitable when Eiko violently offends Kusuda's advances and puts their livelihood in jeopardy. Some ruffled feathers must be smoothed, and Sawamoto's gnarly advent to solicit money rubs salt into their affliction, what alternative do they have? The ending will have its say, as profound as it is poignant. What ultimately striking a chord in A GEISHA is Mizoguchi's deeply affectionate manifesto of the strength between two women, they are not consanguineous, yet, their rapport is so transcendentally dignified and soul- stirring because sometimes life could be hell but that shouldn't be the end of it, no despair needed when we can hold each other's hands and solider on.

Scale-wise, A GEISHA is on the lightweight end in Mizoguchi's yardstick, but nonetheless peppered with compositional circumspection and gifted with superlative emotional repercussions predicated on a string of prominent performances: Michiyo Kogure is beguilingly versatile which sounds like a lesser statement, checking the scenes where she wonderfully lets on courtesy, empathy, scorn and compassion alternatively when facing off an equally competent Eitarô Shindô as the grasping, repugnant Sawamoto, that is some fine acting chops; a callow Ayako Wakao is also well-attuned to Eiko's characteristics, not a soft touch as she appears and lastly, a shout-out to Chieko Naniwa, who inhabits herself so naturally as Madame Okimi, a woman who can commandeer the whole district on her say-so on top of her ever-pleasant-and-earnest camouflage. A GEISHA is after all, one of Mizoguchi's best and rightly deserves the garland.
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A visual feast, although not Mizoguchi's best
fa-oy30 June 2012
Kenji Mizoguchi, an important figure in the history of Japanese cinema, is very well known for his collaboration on the portrayal of Japanese women on screen; one of the first reasons for this being his sister, who was sold to a geisha house by his father's decision. This highly contributed to his attachment to highlighting women on his films.

This is another film where geishas and their lives are involved. The story concerns one geisha and her apprentice, who is supposed to have the will to take the training into full practice and seriousness. Everything seemed fine when the training was in process, but when it came to conclusion, Eiko (the apprentice) had to debut as a geisha, but could not bring herself to accept her chosen client. Likewise, Miyoharu (Eiko's trainer), finds trouble when rejecting a client in love with her. Both rejected clients happened to be wealthy businessmen important to the geisha house where they worked, thus finding problems from there on.

While the film may not be Mizoguchi's best, I can assure it is a wonderful joy to behold its cinematography. The camera positions and movements are just something to appreciate, accompanied by a totally honest and credible acting by pretty much every actor/actress involved.

If you have liked everything you have seen from this wonderful director, there is absolutely not any reason why you should not get your hands on this film.

My score: 7.5/10
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Commerce and sex
lreynaert1 July 2013
This movie by Kenji Mizoguchi treats one of his favorite themes: the living conditions of the geishas, here in modern Japan.

The main character in this movie is a maiko (a young apprentice geisha), sponsored by an older 'sister'. After becoming herself a geisha, the maiko doesn't accept the former rules of the game anymore. She doesn't want to sell her body to anyone or everywhere. On the other hand, the madam of the geisha house doesn't like to lose important customers. At the same time, her 'older sister' becomes an important pawn in a corruption case. A customer of a company refuses to sign a major contract, a matter of life or death for the company, if he doesn't get the geisha's favors and become her 'protector'. She has to choose between her material and her emotional (sexual) interests.

This intimate film is a critical analysis of the status of women in a Japanese society dominated by males, who believe that everything is permitted, especially with women who are bound by debts to their houses and their bosses. Kenji Mizoguchi directed this movie impeccably. Highly recommended.
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Where Will You Go?
boblipton18 August 2020
Ayako Wakao visits Michiyo Kogure. Like Miss Kogure, Miss Wakao's mother was a geisha, and now she wishes to be an apprentice. After sorting through the girl's situation, including a father who's impoverished, Miss Kogure accepts her old friend's daughter. The expense is managed by a loan from the woman who runs the largest tea house in town, and Miss Wakao seems to have a brilliant future in front of her.... until she bites a client who tries to rape her.

Kenji Mizoguchi's movie is not actually about Miss Wakao, who at 20 appears to be half a dozen years younger. It is about the elegant Miss Kogure and the discovery.... no, the re-awakening of her revulsion at the dirty side of what is supposed to be an elegant business. At the time, a 15-year veteran of the movies, she had entered at the same age Miss Wakao was now, and had lately been playing major character roles, like the acidic wife in THE FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE. Here, it's a pleasure to watch her grow as a human being in Mizoguchi's always outraged phillipic about the poor position of women in old Japan and new.
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lacks the strength of Mizoguchi's historical dramas
maerte2 August 2000
In fact Mizoguchi's historical dramas like "Saikaku ichidai onna" deserve more attention than this movie.

The fate of the two Geisha' is described too much in a text book manner "let's see the culture clash" in post war Japan. Thus the protagonists lack any psychological depth and they are rather symbols for tendencies than persons. Similar sujets have been dealt with by Ozu with much more artistic skill and of course, humour.

As a "typical" Japanese film , however, it is produced with enormous diligence regarding the mise en scene.

Therefore (7/10)
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Masterpiece takes an extraordinary visual style from a feminist view of the life of a geisha.
eminkl21 November 2019
As they decide to turn down two of their customers, a professional geisha and her apprentice chose unexpectedly to defy traditionalism. Perhaps one of Mizoguchi's most universally accessible films on Geishas theme and one that has definitely become the archetype for films dealing with such topics. The Japanese filmmaker had become very experienced at this stage and was able to deliver a compelling feminist drama full of defiance and protest against traditionalism's stubbornness and the suffering and misogyny that women sometimes have to endure.
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A snapshot in time
GyatsoLa13 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Another fine contemporary movie from Mizoguchi, as so often with his films, focusing on womens lives. This is a partial remake of his earlier 'Sisters of Gion', although the commentary in my Masters of Cinema DVD version suggests that the studio made him tone down the original script as they did not want their new star, Ayako Wakao, to play a 'bad girl' as was originally intended.

The film is set in the mid 1950's, as the traditional Gion Geisha quarter in Kyoto is under pressure from the massive changes in Japan at the time. Old traditions are dying, there is greater pressure for the girls to indulge in what is essentially prostitution. Both customers and young geisha are less interested in the old formalities. A young girl, the daughter of a geisha and a failing businessman begs an older geisha to take her on and train her. The girl has a funny mixture of ambition and dignity, proud of her status (she insists on wearing her full geisha outfit even to a regular bar), while refusing to 'do what is necessary' with a rich patron. The older woman is caught between her desire to protect the girl and the economic necessities of the time. The 'sisterhood' of Gion - the older, dominant Geisha, use their influence and power to put huge pressure on her to call the young girl to heel.

There are some indications that Mizoguchi's heart wasn't entirely in this film. It is shot quite conventionally by his standards and lacks his trademark visual skills and experimentation. But it is beautifully acted by the whole cast and the insight into the lives of the geisha at the time appears very convincing and real (who can say for sure if it is or not?). It isn't quite as good as his later 'Street of Shame', but its still a fine film and well worth watching.

The Masters of Cinema version (region 2) version that I saw sell it as a 'double DVD' with the brilliant Sansho the Bailiff. The whole package is superb, well worth buying.
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a very unsettling film--just as the writers intended
MartinHafer13 June 2005
This is the story of a woman who becomes a Geisha. She is never given any choice and she becomes a virtual slave to the system. In essence, its as if the was sold to the owner of the stable of Geishas. Then, after all her training and money spent making her the perfect host and performer, her "owner" expects the girl to pay her back by sleeping with her clients--whether or not she finds them repellent or not. The girl objects and is abused and threatened until she complies. A TOUGH movie to watch, indeed.

This movie is diametrically opposed to the documentaries I have seen about the lives of Geishas. They portray the women as entertainers and say they do NOT sleep with the clients--unless, of course, one agrees to do this on her own. This may be true now, but I know that this was not always the case--particularly with women the Japanese kidnapped from Korea and other parts to be "comfort women"--less "Geishas" with all their training but more glorified prostitutes.

A very unusual and interesting film that will also tug at your heartstrings for this poor girl.
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