Gion Bayashi (1953)

27 01 2008

Kenji Mizoguchi is best known in the West as the mind behind Sansho the Bailiff and Ugetsu, both very fine films but both films where the dreamy vibe begins to engulf itself. Perhaps it’s the fairy tale like structure of both films, but in my opinion, they come off as too magical instead of poetic. The Malick comparisons make sense, especially since he attempted a stage adaptation of Sansho but it feels like Mizoguchi is escaping to another world instead of focusing on the beauty within this one. Gion Bayashi is a bit more realistic than Mizoguchi’s more highly-regarded films and for my money, a lot better too.

Eiko (Ayako Wakao) is a naive teenager attempting to start a new life. She travels to the Gion district in hopes of following in her mother’s footsteps by becoming a geisha. She meets one of her mother’s geisha “sisters”: Miyoharu (Michiyo Kogure) is far less idealistic but she takes in Eiko anyway, despite the financial difficulties that the training will bring to her. A year pases, Eiko is now Miyoe, and Miyoe is ready to make her geisha debut. Miyoharu and Miyoe are invited to entertain at a business meeting between Kusuda (Seizaburo Kawazu) and Kanzaki (Kanji Koshiba) – Kusuda falls for Miyoe and Kanzaki falls for Miyoharu. Kusuda wants to give Miyoharu to Kanzaki to help close a business deal but both geisha are against it and this leads to more financial turmoil.

A delicate, slice-of-lice film that Mizoguchi made in-between his two most famous epics, Sansho and Ugetsu. This is a bit closer to the films that Naruse started making in the 50s, which is ironic considering that Mizoguchi was very upfront about his distaste for Naruse. As I mentioned in the opening, the film still has Mizoguchi’s distinct style stamped all over it. I can see Mizoguchi attempting this type of narrative in one of his earlier films, Women of the Night, which I also liked quite a bit. However, that film amounts to an almost Seijun Suzuki-esque exploitation film with very dubious attempts as coming off as true to life. There’s some equally melodramatic flairs here, but not enough to deride this perfectly downplayed tragedy.