A Geisha, 1953

A naive, idealistic young woman named Eiko (Ayako Wakao) ventures into the Gion district in search of her late mother’s geisha “sister” – an independent-minded, and old-fashioned geisha named Miyoharu (Michiyo Kogure). Shamed by her uncle for her disreputable social status and disowned by her burdensome, ailing father, Sawamoto (Eitaro Shindo), Eiko has turned to Miyoharu in the hopes of following in her mother’s footsteps. Unable to secure a guarantee from Sawamoto, Miyoharu decides to use her own financial resources to assume responsibility for Eiko’s formal training as a maiko (apprentice geisha), and gives her the name of Miyoe. A year later, Miyoe is ready to debut at the Gion teahouses, and Miyoharu enlists the aid of an influential teahouse owner named Okimi (Chieko Naniwa) to raise money for Eiko’s ceremonial kimono. Okimi invites Miyoharu and Miyoe to entertain at a business meeting between a company director named Kusuda (Seizaburo Kawazu) and his prospective client, Kanzaki (Kanji Koshiba). Kanzaki is immediately captivated by Miyoharu, and Kusuda exploits the opportunity by encouraging Okimi to use her influence on Miyoharu to accept Kanzani’s patronage. However, when Miyoharu shows disinterest in the proposition, the geisha sisters find themselves increasingly excluded from Gion society and, inevitably, their sole means of economic survival.

A Geisha is a dispassionate, yet fascinating chronicle of a young woman’s maturation in the geisha trade. From the opening medium shot of a narrow alley as a young Eiko walks by a street merchant, Kenji Mizoguchi uses the repeated image of confined spaces and restrictive passageways to reflect a sense of entrapment: the image of Eiko running across town in order to meet her maiko preparatory appointment; the ceremonial introduction of Miyoe through the Gion teahouses; Sawamoto’s unexpected visit on a Tokyo-bound train; Miyoe’s moment of decision to implore Okimi. The final shot shows Miyoharu and Miyoe walking from the narrow and empty alley of their house into the busy, festive street of the district. It is a symbolic realization of Miyoe’s own emergence into the harsh, unforgiving reality of a geisha’s life – the dichotomy between obedient service and personal conscience in a socially marginalized, but culturally accommodated trade of human emotion.

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