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.
Lopate, Phillip. "A Master Who Could Create Poems for the Eye." New York Times 15 Sept. 1995: H15+
Lopate examines the work of Mizoguchi in preparation for a coming Mizoguchi retrospective in New York City. Lopate raises the debate as to whether Mizoguchi can truly be considered a champion of women's rights; he claims that many feminist film critics believe that his attention to the sufferings of women is "disguised sadism". In particular, did Mizoguchi attempt to represent the pressures faced by the geisha in order to show the oppression of Japanese society, or was he in favor of the traditional practice that many feminists see as degrading women. Lopate points out that Mizoguchi often explored women's mistrust of men (he points explicitly to Omocha in Sisters of the Gion). He continues by considering the auteur's use of long takes in portraying extreme conflict or emotion.
The debate is particularly relevant to Sisters of the Gion; it is central to the issues surrounding the film's cryptic ending. While the detachment produced by the camerawork suggests a disregard for the fate of the film's characters, I find little evidence to believe that Mizoguchi is championing the traditional values that kept Japanese women on a lower social tier than men. After all, the traditional Umekichi, who remains faithful to her patron, does not end up happy at the end of the film. In fact, Furosawa's departure reflects a bitter cynicism towards the treatment of women at the hands of Japanese men. While Omocha's accident could be a form of punishment for her action, the sudden close-up at the end suggests that we are to identify with her pain rather than chastise her for her actions.
Wada-Marciano, Mitsuyo. "Imaging Modern Girls." Nippon Modern: Japanese Cinema of the 1920s and 1930s. Honolulu: University of
Hawai'i Press, 2008. 76-110.
In this chapter from Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano's books, the author explores the idea of the modern girl (or moga). Wada-Marciano claims that the "woman's film genre" reflects the discourse on the experience of modernity. She elaborates by saying that the function of the modern girl in movies was to give form to an "invisible, unacknowledged Japanese anxiety" (88). The chapter ends by considering the dichotomy between the modern girl and the traditional woman as representative of the Japanese society as a whole.
We can consider Omocha to be Sisters of the Gion's modern girl. When contrasted to the other characters around her, she demonstrates progressive ideas (notably, equality between men and women). If we consider her further to represent a problem in to the Japanese socioeconomic status quo, Omocha does not only represent the threat of feminism to the geisha tradition but also the threat of a powerful, modern women successfully manipulating men in order to achieve her desires. Meanwhile, Umekichi can be seen as the status quo; she is undemanding and willing to accept what life hands her.