Sisters of the Gion

gion sisters

While Memoirs of a Geisha painted a romantic portrait of geisha living in a Japanese Cinderella story, Sisters of Gion gives viewers a realistic view. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, who’s fond of creating films about vulnerable women, the Sisters of Gion we see are the older, trusting Umekichi and the more perceptive, jaded O-Mocha. Umekichi’s patron has gone flat broke. He has to sell his store and his family has to move back to his wife’s hometown in disgrace. The wife isn’t the least bit happy about the shame that accompanies this fall.

The patron, Furusawa-san, accepts Umekichi’s offer to put him up. O-Mocha is incredulous and miffed. Doesn’t Umekichi realize that they’re just barely scrimping by? How can they take in a penniless former merchant? Quiet Umekichi ignores her younger sister, occasionally saying something about tradition or being good to people.

O-Mocha is the practical sister. She realizes that her sister needs a new patron, pronto and to get one she’ll need to be seen in an exquisite kimono at a top level party. O-Mocha gets her sister the needed invitation and figures out how to hustle an assistant in a kimono shop to help her sister. Later when the shop assistant is found out, O-Mocha cozies up to the shop owner who she wants to be her patron.

O-Mocha sees the geisha life for what it is — a way for men to have young playthings. It’s not a path she appears to have chosen, but she’s determined not to be a victim in the system, if that’s a possibility in a male dominated society.

The film was absorbing and often beautiful. I admired O-Mocha’s spunk and wished her sister would take some of her advice. It’s a classic, I’d love to see again.

Crazed Fruit

crazed_fruit

When I picked Crazed Fruit (1956) out at the library, I had no idea what it was about our who the director, Ko Nakahira was. Until recently, the only directors I knew were Ozu and Kurosawa. I’ve learned Japan has produced many masterful filmmakers.

Crazed Fruit takes place in the late 1950s when Japan is getting prosperous, at least the elite are. The main characters are two brothers from a wealthy family. The brothers, Natsuhisha and Haruji, spend their summer with their fellow rich kids gambling, smoking, drinking, fighting and going after girls. Another occupation is complaining about how their college professors know nothing and how their futures are meaningless. While it’s becoming an economic wonder, Japan doesn’t offer any outlet for their passions.

When the brothers arrive at the train station en route to their pal’s summer house, they see Eri, a beautiful, alluring young woman. Haruji, who’s the young, innocent brother, is smitten, but his brother, who’s quite the lover boy, pulls him away so they can hurry over to their friends.

The next day while out on a boat, they notice a girl in the water. It turns out to be Eri. Soon both boys are smitten and don’t really care or, in the case of Haruji, know, that Eri’s married to a much older, prosperous Western man.

Haruji innocently courts Eri, who always has an excuse why she can’t be picked up at home. The scenes with Haruji and Eri are tastefully sensual. The camera captures their desire as they lie next to each other sunbathing on the rocks by the sea in a way that’s exquisite. It’s a much more compelling than any sex scene I’ve seen in 10 years or more. Nakahira is a master, who deserves to be studies by every filmmaker and film lover.

Soon Natsuhisha becomes obsessed with Eri. He finds her house and sees her husband. He promises to keep her Western husband a secret from Haruji if Eri will have sex with him. She agrees. Eri’s character is hinted at rather than well defined. She’s a mystery and unlike other characters. She’s insulted and angry, but also willing. Natsuhisha exudes animal chemistry and she finds him more than satisfying in the bedroom. Eri seems to want to keep her three men, to keep those relationships separate, but to keep them. Of course, this is impossible

The film, which is based on a novel by Ishihara, broke new ground in depicting sensuality and the abandonment of traditional morality among rich youth. At the time, though people’s own mores had changed, film had not. Japanese films tended to uphold traditional morals. While the tragic ending in Crazed Fruit certainly doesn’t promote the lifestyle or choices of the idle rich, it did shock the elders at the cinema.

Crazed Fruit was conceived and produced to be a low budget, teen flick that would cash in at the box office. The story, in Nakahira’s hands, is a beautiful classic.

The Criterion Collection offers two thoughtful essays on Crazed Fruit. The commentary by Japan film expert Donald Richie greatly enhances the film as he explains the social context and context of this film within Japanese filmmaking.

 

Downton Abbey, 3 Episode 4

Lady-Sybil-Crawley-the-crawley-sisters-31850306-1418-945

If Thomas (a.k.a. Mr. Burton) cries during an episode of Downton Abbey, you know there’s tragedy. I happened upon news of Sybil’s death last fall when I did a search for some other Downton matter and a British site popped up.

Still as Bresson asserts in good drama knowing the outcome won’t diminish the engagement with a story. I know how Casablanca ends and yet I get caught up in the story time after time.

So I was actually all the more rapt as Sybil lost her life in childbirth. Any viewer could tell the city-fied, modern Sir Whatshisname, was wrong and that Lord Grantham should listen to Dr. Clarkson. It was odd, but believable, that this tradition-bound lord didn’t. I kept thinking, “Listen to the women. Listen to Cora on this, Robert!”

The tone of the emotion was just right. Characters were devastated, but there was some reserve. This is not a telenova. And that’s why we viewers feel all the more emotion. When I see say a Malaysian soap opera everyone’s screaming, crying and flailing about in hysteria. I feel nothing because that “works” been done by the actors. When you witness tragedy and there’s been restraint because the situations so sad that words and actions won’t suffice, that’s when the audience feels the most.

One of the most beautiful scenes in this season so far was when we saw Branson at the window holding his daughter. No words and it just lasted a minute, but we knew (or projected) everything his grieving husband must feel. He’s got to be strong and committed to his daughter in spite of his own grief.

We’re in store for a lot of drama. Branson’s role in the family is even more tenuous. He’s still connected by a female the Grantham’s love, but she’s a baby and can’t act as a mediator. Where will they live? What work will Branson, who can’t return to Ireland, take on that won’t humiliate the Grantham’s?

Bravo to Isobel for hiring Ethel. I can see why Mrs. Bird left, but it’s a shame she didn’t try to stay and work through her prejudices. I think Isobel’s great sacrifice isn’t going to be her reputation, but rather her palate. It’ll take Ethel a while to learn to cook.

Congratulations to Edith for the newspaper column. I hope she surprises everyone with her insights and writing. Edith, yes your father and granny disapprove, but don’t flee the breakfast table each time he does. Women need their rights, but they also need to learn to stand their ground.

Daisy, listen to Mrs. Patmore. You’re becoming too much of a grouch.

Robert, it’s true you didn’t cause Sybil’s death, but to get back into Cora’s good graces, you ought to blame yourself as much as possible.(The trailers suggest you won’t.) If you descend into depression than Cora would probably consider rescuing you her mission. If you aren’t huber-contrite and grief-stricken you’ll be sleeping solo ad infinitum.