Sisters of the Gion

Gion no shimai

dir. Kenji Mizoguchi

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Two sisters — the elder conservative and traditional, the younger modernized and rebellious — endure humiliation and tragedy as geisha in a Kyoto teahouse in this early masterpiece by Kenji Mizoguchi.
The only film of Mizoguchi's to win him the prestigious Japanese film magazine Kinema Jumpo's award for best film of the year (Japan's equivalent of the Academy Awards®), Sisters of the Gion and its immediate predecessor Osaka Elegy were also Mizoguchi's first truly successful sound films. (Sisters was later named by Susan Sontag as one of her favourite Mizoguchi films, and according to Donald Richie is still regarded in Japan as "one of the best Japanese films ever made.") A portrait of two sisters — the older (Yoko Umemura) conservative and traditional, the younger (Isuzu Yamada) modern, Western-oriented, and rebellious — who are faced with sexual humiliations as geisha in a Kyoto teahouse, Sisters inevitably leaves its audiences in stunned silence; the ending is, if anything, more rending than that of its twin Osaka Elegy. "A masterpiece . . . one of Mizoguchi's greatest contemporary dramas" (Tadao Sato); "My favourite work of Japanese cinema" (King Hu).