Sisters of Gion

96 minutes 2013

A watershed in the career of Kenji Mizoguchi came in 1936, when Osaka Elegy and this nuanced melodrama of two geishas signaled the emergence of his distinctive voice and style. The dynamic opening tracking shot of a frantic auction is our sweeping introduction to a failed textile merchant who promptly leaves his long-suffering wife for his favorite geisha (Yoko Umemura). His refuge is disrupted by her slip-clad, westernized younger sister (Isuzu Yamada, making a memorable entrance), who's soon scheming to find her sibling a wealthier patron. Mizoguchi builds psychological tension through his use of long takes, saving close-ups for moments of portent or heightened emotion—as in the final shot, which shows his headstrong young victim of Japan's clash between modernism and tradition down but still fighting mad. In Japanese with subtitles.

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