Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gion Bayashi (A Geisha aka Gion Festival Music)

I needed to watch a Japanese movie as all I have seen, no matter how intense they are, bring me interior peace and I was not disappointed at all with this 1953 Kenji Mizoguchi film even when it has the somber aura of a postwar film has a quite interesting story about what women can do to and feel for other women.

The basic story is about a geisha, Miyoharu, that accepts a young girl, Eiko, as her apprentice when the girl asks for Miyoharu’s help to avoid having to sleep with her uncle that paid for her grandmother’s expensive funeral and is requesting payment. After about a year Eiko is ready to make her debut and Miyoharu incur in debt to be able to pay for the expenses of Eiko’s costume. At Eiko’s debut both meet Kusuda, a scheming entrepreneur that will manipulate them for the sake of winning a vital business contract with Kanzaki a head of a department slanted for promotion to the position of company director. Kanzaki develops an intense attraction to Miyoharu. All is happening at the teahouse of powerful Okimi where Kusuda is a regular and valuable customer. What happens next is the development of a web knitted by all the characters that will trap both older and younger geishas, until Miyoharu is forced to the maximum Geisha sacrifice (go to the dark side) to save Eiko and herself.

But actually the story is about how women in power positions (Okimi) can destroy the life of other women to save her business and how a family-less woman (Miyoharu) is willing to do the ultimate sacrifice for the love of a girl (Eiko) that she loves as if she was her own daughter. So you have that the main characters are strong women that will do anything to save what they care for. Still, there is another story layer and is related to how younger geisha generations started to change after the war because women started to question what they were doing and to have rights in Japanese society; and another story layer, how after the war many geishas had to become prostitutes. So it is a movie with a story that has many layers parallel running in front of you as smooth as most typical Japanese movies do, as in this movie that has an excellent women drama, there are not many dramatic scenes (but there are a few excellent ones), everything is done with the smoother and polite tone and manner that is peculiar to their culture.

When reading about this movie I got all confused as seems this movie is regarded by some as ‘not a good’ Mizoguchi movie and they dismiss it with the most unusual comments that I absolutely cannot relate to the movie I saw. In my opinion this is a very good Mizoguchi movie that masterfully deals with a complex and layered story and presents it in the easiest way for viewers pleasure, as absolutely is the reflection of what I want to call the Japanese quotidian post war life.

I loved the movie and find it different to the other Mizoguchi movies I have seen but not for a moment I considered that this was not an excellent Mizoguchi movie that I’m certain he impregnated his style and vision to the novel by Matsutarô Kawaguchi, who also wrote the screenplay. I say that the movie is different because looks and feels like studio movies with no outdoors scenes and still straight angle camera takes, and also like a western stage play.

Performances by the lead and supporting actors are impeccable and the actors’ that played Okimi, Chieko Naniwa, and Eiko’s father, Eitarô Shindô, won the 1954 Blue Ribbon awards for Best Supporting Actress and Actor respectively.

This is one Mizoguchi movie that I highly recommend to all that like his movies, that like to watch the women stories in his films as well as in Naruse and Ozu films and to those that have to see the movies of that long go era of excellent Japanese cinema.

Big Enjoy!!!

P.S. The picture is the original poster of the movie.

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