The Geisha

5.0 out of 5 stars Memoirs of Momowaka
The Geisha

Anyone who has seen Memoirs of a Geisha should have to watch this film for balance. “The Geisha” (Japanese title, “Yokiro,” which is the name of the geisha house), is a true look behind the white make-up and fancy silks of the flower-and-willow world, and into the people who practice the profession. It isn’t elegant or pretty. Geisha are like ballet dancers who exude grace and beauty while hiding bruised and damaged feet under dainty pink sandals.

The story follows Momowaka (Ikegami Kimiko, House), the daughter of a female-procurer and his geisha lover. Her mother was murdered when Momowaka was a child, and her father (Ogata Ken, Vengeance Is Mine) sold her to the Yokiro geisha house when she was twelve. Under the harsh tutelage of the Mistress of Yokiro Momowaka has grown to become the top geisha in the most famous geisha house in Western Japan. She is perfect in form and figure, but empty inside and cold like a statue. Momowaka frustrates her patrons who find that although they can rent her body they cannot touch her heart. Her father, a blunt and hard dealer in flesh, is neither a good man nor a bad one. He sells his daughter to a geisha house and his underage lover to a brothel with little regret, but at the same time he has single-handedly protected Yokiro from the influence of the yakuza gangsters for years. He has kept the geisha district a haven for pleasure-seekers, but like everyone in the district, he is getting older and his enemies are getting bolder. Even timeless traditions cannot carry on forever.

As you can see by the DVD box, “The Geisha” has won more awards than there are room to print. The Japanese Academy’s 1984 winner for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography and five other Academy Awards. It is, needless to say, a great film. Director Gosha Hideo (The Wolves) is one of the greats of Japanese cinema, and “The Geisha” is one of his best films. He trademarks are everywhere, like vicious fight scenes accompanied by uplifting music, or a slow burning plot that explodes in the final scenes.

There are so many scenes I loved in this film. There is a great bar scene, where a group of geisha share the establishment with a group of prostitutes. Although lower of the social scale, the prostitutes are wild and free, and can drink and dance the Charleston, while the geisha are constrained by their position. The envy mixed with disgust is palatable. I loved how “The Geisha” takes place in Koichi, on the island of Shikoku rather than the more famous Gion district in Kyoto. There was a time when no major city was without its pleasure quarters, and it is a nice reminder that Kyoto does not have a monopoly on geisha.

As always, Animeigo has done a remarkable job with a remarkable film. Their dual translation, showing cultural notes along with the dialog, is necessary for the complex relationships of the pleasure quarters, where everyone is “daddy” or “big sister” or “mamma” or “lord.”

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