Wood, Robin. "Three Films of Mizoguchi: Questions of Style and Identification." Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Hollywood and
Beyond. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. 227-247.
In this chapter of Robin Wood's collection of essays on the role of sexual politics in narrative film, Wood examines the work of Mizoguchi. Wood divides Mizoguchi's work into five periods, each representing a change in the sociopolitical situation of Japan. She places Sisters of the Gion in Mizoguchi's "radical period", during which the director committed himself to a Leftist protest movement and experimented with "radical" form and content. Wood then explores Sisters of the Gion, stating that the film examines the victimization of women within patriarchal capitalism. However even more, Wood believes that the film criticizes a system in which everyone--both male and female--ultimately becomes a victim (e.g. Furosawa is a victim of the business world, Umekichi a victim of her conformism). Wood also uses some formalist analysis to further her points, particularly in determining how the film's techniques cause us to identify with Omocha. She looks explicitly at the importance of Omocha's closing statement, the impact of which, she claims, is heightened by the sudden change from long, distant shots to short close-ups. She also points out that the lack of depth in the film's shots contributes to a claustrophobic space that increases our discomfort with the exploitation of the women in the film.
Wood's analysis not only contextualizes the work of Mizoguchi within his development of an auteur but within the greater current of modern history. While the book may be concerned primarily with sexual politics, learning of Mizoguchi's association with Leftists allows us to consider the film as embodying the clash between capitalism and communism that dominated the interwar period in many countries (including France, Spain, and Germany). Rather than being motivated by her modern views regarding men, what if we consider Omocha's efforts to overcome her poverty and rise in the capitalist system? If we view her actions as being primarily motivated by a desire for greater wealth, her then failure points to the socioeconomic immobility that Mizoguchi ascribes to capitalism. Rather than being a criticism of geisha, her final lines ("Why are we made to suffer so? Why are there geisha? Why do we exist?) reflect the plight of the lower class as a whole. Still, despite her failure, the film causes us to identify with the younger, educated Omocha rather than her more conservative sister. This suggests that while Mizoguchi does indeed believe that Omocha's modern ideals should triumph, he finds failure in her attempt to exploit the capitalist system rather than making an effort to redesign it.