Sisters of the Gion (祇園の姉妹 Gion no shimai?) is a 1936 black and white Japanese film drama directed by Kenji Mizoguchi.
The film is based on the novel Yama (The Pit) (1905-1915) by Aleksandr Kuprin.
The story centers around two sisters (Umekichi and Omocha), who are geisha, living in an okiya of their own in the licensed pleasure district of Gion, Kyoto. Both women have very different outlooks on relationships with men. Umekichi, the elder sister, is the ideal geisha; she grew up going to dance and music lessons, wears kimono, and has a strong sense of giri, or loyalty, to her patron. Umekichi’s younger sister, Omocha, was educated in public schools and wears western clothing, except when she is working as a geisha. Unlike Umekichi, Omocha doesn’t trust men and believes that they will only use geisha and then abandon them without a care. Thus, she uses men to her own advantage. In doing so she is willing to manipulate and lie to her customers.
Umekichi’s patron in the movie is a newly bankrupt businessman named Shimbei Furusawa, who Umekichi takes care of after he loses his house and business. Omocha does not believe that her sister should support Shimbei, that doing so will prevent her from providing for herself by finding a new patron, and that she owes him nothing as, in her view, he has received more than he has given in the past. Omocha finds her sister a new patron and, one day when Umekichi is out, gives Shimbei some money to return to the his wife in the country and tells him that her sister no longer wants him around. He takes the money but, rather than leaving, spends it drinking and takes up residence with his former clerk.
Omocha also attempts to find a patron for herself and appears to be successful in gaining the attention of the owner of a kimono/cloth shop. However, in the process of helping her sister Omocha has previously taken advantage of the owner’s clerk, who has stolen from the shop to provide a kimono for Umekichi and been found out.
Umekichi throws over her new patron when she learns of Omocha's deception of Shimbei from the kimono shop clerk, and returns to him. The clerk is discovered at Omocha's okiya by the shop owner and dismissed. He seeks his revenge on his former employer by informing his wife of her husband's infidelity, and then exacts his revenge on Omocha by abducting her in a car and injuring her grievously by throwing her from it.
Omocha and Umekichi have conflicting outlooks on men and the role of geisha, but ultimately they are both defeated at the end of the film. Umekichi is abandoned by her bankrupt patron Shimbei when he is given the chance to manage a factory in the country where his wife has retired, and ends up caring for Omocha after her hospitalization for her injuries. Omocha curses the very existence of the geisha and the sexual subjugation involved. This tragic ending largely confirms Omocha's jaundiced view of the role of the geisha in a male dominated society, in a film that is surprisingly feminist for its time and place.
- Isuzu Yamada as younger sister Omocha
- Yōko Umemura as older sister Umekichi
- Benkei Shiganoya as bankrupt businessman Shimbei Furusawa
- Fumio Okura as Jurakudo
- Eitarō Shindō as Kudo
- Taizō Fukami as Kimura
- Sakurako Iwama as Omasa Kudō
- Namiko Kawajima
- Reiko Aoi
- Shizuko Takizawa