A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sisters of the Gion (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1936)

Isuzu Yamada and Fumio Okura in Sisters of the Gion
Omocha: Isuzu Yamada
Umekichi: Yoko Umemura
Shimbei Furusawa: Benkei Shiganoya
Sangoro Kudo: Eitaro Shindo
Kimura: Taizo Fukami
Jurakudo: Fumio Okura
Omasa Kudo: Sakurako Iwama

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Screenplay: Kenji Mizoguchi, Yoshikata Yoda
Based on a novel by Aleksandr Kuprin
Cinematography: Minoru Miki
Film editing: Tatsuko Sakane

"Why do there even have to be such things as geisha?" laments Omocha at the end of Kenji Mizoguchi's Sisters of the Gion. The line could well be a motto for Mizoguchi's career as a filmmaker, as he returned again and again to the theme outlined in the film, not just for geisha but also for prostitutes, mistresses, and wives: Why do women have to spend so much of their lives employing their talents, intelligence, and energy at pleasing men? In this larger sense it's a theme that preoccupied not only Mizoguchi but also Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, and other Japanese filmmakers, especially after the war, when political and social change altered the roles of both sexes. Sisters of the Gion is decidedly pre-war, but it's a film that can hold its own with those of the postwar renaissance of Japanese film. It's both of its time and prophetic of what is to come, embodying the dynamic of tradition and change in its two sisters, Omocha and Umekichi, the former outwardly faithful to but inwardly rebellious against her profession, the latter resigned to its demands. In the end, both suffer defeat, but the film implicitly endorses Omocha's defiant strength.

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