Gion Bayashi (1953)

27 01 2008

Kenji Mizoguchi is best known in the West as the mind behind Sansho the Bailiff and Ugetsu, both very fine films but both films where the dreamy vibe begins to engulf itself. Perhaps it’s the fairy tale like structure of both films, but in my opinion, they come off as too magical instead of poetic. The Malick comparisons make sense, especially since he attempted a stage adaptation of Sansho but it feels like Mizoguchi is escaping to another world instead of focusing on the beauty within this one. Gion Bayashi is a bit more realistic than Mizoguchi’s more highly-regarded films and for my money, a lot better too.

Eiko (Ayako Wakao) is a naive teenager attempting to start a new life. She travels to the Gion district in hopes of following in her mother’s footsteps by becoming a geisha. She meets one of her mother’s geisha “sisters”: Miyoharu (Michiyo Kogure) is far less idealistic but she takes in Eiko anyway, despite the financial difficulties that the training will bring to her. A year pases, Eiko is now Miyoe, and Miyoe is ready to make her geisha debut. Miyoharu and Miyoe are invited to entertain at a business meeting between Kusuda (Seizaburo Kawazu) and Kanzaki (Kanji Koshiba) – Kusuda falls for Miyoe and Kanzaki falls for Miyoharu. Kusuda wants to give Miyoharu to Kanzaki to help close a business deal but both geisha are against it and this leads to more financial turmoil.

A delicate, slice-of-lice film that Mizoguchi made in-between his two most famous epics, Sansho and Ugetsu. This is a bit closer to the films that Naruse started making in the 50s, which is ironic considering that Mizoguchi was very upfront about his distaste for Naruse. As I mentioned in the opening, the film still has Mizoguchi’s distinct style stamped all over it. I can see Mizoguchi attempting this type of narrative in one of his earlier films, Women of the Night, which I also liked quite a bit. However, that film amounts to an almost Seijun Suzuki-esque exploitation film with very dubious attempts as coming off as true to life. There’s some equally melodramatic flairs here, but not enough to deride this perfectly downplayed tragedy.

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4 responses

27 01 2008
Michael Kerpan

I just reviewed this finally — and posted screen shots of my own:

http://rozmon.blogspot.com/2008/01/watched-december-10-16-2007-part-two.html

Mizoguchi’s contempt for Naruse was, I’m pretty sure, almost entirely class based. Although Mizoguchi’s parents had been poor, he prided himself on his upper-class ancestry. Naruse was had an unquestionably low-class background.

“Gion bayashi” is one of my favorite Mizoguchi films — and yet I don’t love it as much as I do the Naruse films that cover similar territory. Naruse’s work is more restrained and balanced — and just as visually beautiful, albeit in a different fashion from the films of Mizoguchi.

27 01 2008
Jake Savage

It was actually your review that convinced me to get off my butt and finally see this. Thanks for the incentive.

I agree with you on Naruse. He didn’t have the same technical virtuosity but he composed his films in his own beautiful way. Gion Bayashi is better than Naruse at his worse (which is still quite good) but not quite as good as Naruse at his best. I wouldn’t even say this film is that restrained but it is still much more downbeat than Mizoguchi’s other films. I think he balances it well with some of his usual melodramatic excess. Basically the film is the right level of “drama” for me. It never feels too subdued or too dramatic.

27 01 2008
Michael Kerpan

I have always loved “Gion bayashi” — and it is certainly a far more effective film than his fascinating, but hopelessly over-wrought “Women of the Night”. I look forward to your reactions to “Uwasa no onna” and “Street of Shame”.

28 01 2008
kiddo

“There’s some equally melodramatic flairs here, but not enough to deride this perfectly downplayed tragedy.”

You write very elegantly at times, Jake! A pleasure to read much of this stuff, and often very informative. My respect for your outlook on film is growing, and I like visiting this blog… Your productiveness is also impressive. Keep up with this great work.

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