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“Geishas are human beings!” – Mizoguchi Part I

June 2, 2010

“Geishas are human beings!” This exclamation echoed in my ear when I saw Mizoguchi Kenji’s movie “Tokyo March” which was made in 1929.

Mizoguchi Kenji, born on May 16th 1898 in Tokyo, often depicted the hardships of geishas (and women in general) at the beginning of the 20th century in his movies. In “Tokyo March” Mizoguchi tells the story of a woman called Michio who lives with an old couple after her mother died. When the husband looses his job, the couple thinks of selling Michio as a geisha, but the husband doesn’t like the idea since they already sold Michio’s younger sister who has died, too.

This movie starts with an explanation on Tokyo which is said to be “the most modern city in the eastern world and concentrates the culture, education and art as well as the evil and the degenerated of Japan” followed by the song that lends the title to this movie:

In a flashback we see Michio with her dying mother who tells her that her father was a heartless man and warns Michio that men will promise you everything to make you love them, but their feelings already fade the next morning…

Michio eventually has to become a geisha and is now known as Orie. She is entertaining Sakuma and his friend Yoshiki who isn’t interested in geishas. Yoshiki still dreams of a girl he met by chance when he was playing tennis and the ball fell down into this girl’s garden. She tried to throw the ball up again, but didn’t succeed. The next day, Yoshiki tried to meet her, but she was gone. Now he is puzzled to find her again as he recognizes Orie. Orie also remembers Yoshiki and is happy to hear from Sakuma that Yoshiki hates geishas. When Sakuma and Yoshiki drive back, Sakuma tells Yoshiki about his intention to marry Orie. Yoshiki obviously is appalled, but doesn’t say anything.

In the meantime, Yoshiki’s father Fujimoto is interested in Orie as well, but Orie runs away leaving Fujimoto with a bad conscience. He pays Ories debts to the teahouse owner and claims that he’d never order Orie again.

The next scene shows Sakuma waiting for Orie. She comes in late with a present from Yoshiki who has just made a proposal to her. Sakuma makes his proposal, too, but Orie is in love with Yoshiki.

When Yoshiki informs his father about his decision to marry Orie, Fujimoto doesn’t agree. He says that as the first-born of the Fujimoto-clan, Yoshiki is not allowed to marry a geisha. This is the moment, when Yoshiki claims that geishas are human beings, but his father prohibits the marriage without stating any further reasons.

Instead, Fujimoto meets Orie and confesses that he is her father and begs for pardon. Yoshiki arrives and sees Orie crying. He wants to meet her and expresses his wish to marry her again, but Fujimoto now also confesses to him that their marriage isn’t possible because they are half brother and sister.

Orie is praying at her mother’s grave and says, that the fact that she and Yoshiki are siblings must be the punishment for having loved someone. But she also objects her mother by saying that Yoshiki and Sakuma are good men. Afterwards, Orie visits Sakuma to tell him about her relationship to Yoshiki. Sakuma asks for her hand again and Orie now agrees to marry him.

In the end, Yoshiki leaves for America and we see the harbour, the see and the scenes from Tokyo which were shown in the beginning already, when the song “Tokyo March” was played. If we remember the lyrics of this song, we find parallels to Michio’s story. One line goes like this: “You’re going by train, I’m going by bus. The stop of love is beyond our control.” Yoshiki and Michio are going their ways. They wish for the happiness of each other, but living together remains a dream.

“Tokyo March” is the earliest movie of Mizoguchi I was able to see. Most of his earlier works are lost. I will continue writing about some other Mizoguchi movies soon, which deal with struggling women, too. Mizoguchi gained success by depicting women characters in a realistic way and almost all main characters in his movies are women who suffer. Often they sacrifice themselves for their family or a man they love. It seems like Mizoguchi feels urged to show women’s suffering as a way to return what his sister had done for him. Mizoguchi’s sister, too, was sold to a geisha house at the age of fourteen. She earned the family’s living as a geisha after their father went bankrupt and could finance Mizoguchi’s studies. So as many of the women in Mizoguchi’s movies, his sister also sacrificed herself for the wellbeing of her family which obviously influenced his work.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. yoko permalink
    June 9, 2010 03:40

    oh!so old japanese style!!
    but conversely,’shirokuro’movie is fresh for us!lol

    • franeymoon permalink
      June 9, 2010 10:15

      Thanks for the comment, Yoko! I really like old Japanese movies 🙂

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