Le Fanu, Mark. "Geisha, Prostitution, and the Street." Mizoguchi and Japan. London: BFI Publishing, 2005. 69-95.
Mark Le Fanu's book provides excellent criticism on the surviving films of Mizoguchi. In the cited chapter, Le Fanu examines seven films that deal with the worlds of prostitution and the geisha of Kyoto. Le Fanu points out that the geisha's main function was an artistic one. He points out that Sisters of the Gion is primarily concerned with the characters' need for patronage and the geisha's exchange of freedom for money. He also sees Omocha as a free, brave spirit who stands out for her rebellion in a time when Japanese women were expected to be meek and submissive. Finally, Le Fanu confronts the problem of the film's ending. While many critics believe it to be too abrupt and explicit, Le Fanu believes that this change in pace is what gives the film its power: not only does Omocha's soliloquy explicitly point at the plight of geisha, but it is the only moment of the film in which we see such raw emotion (Kimura's bitter revenge is remarkably restrained).
While my emphasis in this project is on Japanese society as a whole, it is important not to ignore the fact that Sisters of the Gion examines the unique role of Japanese geisha in the 1930s. The principal motivation for Omocha's actions is to secure a new kimono for Umekichi so that she can participate in a dance. In fact, this is the only explicit mention of the geisha's artistic role; Mizoguchi largely overlooks it in order to focus on the importance of patronage. Perhaps Sisters of the Gion is a directed criticism of the geisha, but I am of the opinion that Le Fanu's analysis is too directed. It is not so much geishadom as a whole that Mizoguchi opposes (after all, the artistic role of the geisha does not come under fire), but rather the feudal values that surround it. Mizoguchi's chief criticism is the required subservience of women. These female performers, who carry out a highly celebrated artistic function (according to Le Fanu) must essentially sell themselves in order to survive. Yet in attempting to pursue this goal, they are resented or defamed for their methods. It may be an extreme case, but Kimura's revenge is a manifestation of this criticism.