Sisters of the Gion

祇園の姉妹 (Gion no shimai)
Japan 1936. Dir: Kenji Mizoguchi. 69 min. 35mm

35mm PRINT | One of the finest Japanese films of the prewar era, Mizoguchi’s powerful drama, set in Kyoto’s red light district, was condemned as “decadent” by government censors for its realistic treatment of society’s exploitation of women. As Umekichi (Yoko Umemura), a geisha faithful to the old traditions, initiates her younger sister Omocha (Isuzu Yamada) into the trade, the decidedly modern ideas of the latter bring the two into conflict. Sisters of the Gion is an exemplar of Mizoguchi’s characteristic thematic concerns (the social position of women; the redemptive power of their love) and his celebrated visual style (long takes; composition-in-depth; elaborately choreographed sequence shots). It was a landmark in the development of realism in Japan’s cinema — and the sole Mizoguchi work ever to win the Kinema Junpo award (Japan’s top film prize) as best Japanese film of year.

REVIEWS

"[An] enormously astute and affecting account of the physical, emotional and economic entrapment of women in traditional Japanese society."

Time Out | full review

"The masterpiece of Kenji Mizoguchi's prewar period."

Chicago Reader | full review