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Omocha

The Geisha House

Japan 1999
produced by
Masao Sato, Kinji Fukasaku for Toei
directed by Kinji Fukasaku
starring Maki Miyamoto, Junko Fuji (= Sumiko Fuji), Kaho Minami, Mai Kitajima, Masahiko Tsugawa, Yumiko Nogawa, Mariko Okada, Takeshi Kato, Noboru Mitani, Naomasa Musaka, Takashi Sasano, Seizo Fukumoto
written by Kaneto Shindo, music by Masamichi Amano, assistant director: Kenta Fukasaku

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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It's 1958, Japan, and the anti-prostitution act is about to be put into effect: Young Tokiko (Maki Miyamoto) works at a geisha house, not as a geisha (yet) but as a maid, mostly running errands for the geishas. And this way, she takes part in their lives, filled with jealousy, vanity, but also love anbd understanding - in fact, they are like everyone else, with the difference that they sell their charms (and sometimes a bit more) for money instead of selling something else for money. And yet, geishas are usually treated like dirt by others, as soon as they have served their purpose.

Tokiko is to become a geisha soon, and she knows that geishas are generally viewed as little more than prostitutes, and yet she stays strong, because she has to support her family, even if her own brother despises her for what she's doing - despite the fact that he's unemployed and doesn't even try to look for a job.

Eventually disaster strikes when Satoe (Sumiko Fuji), owner of the geisha house she's working at, is left by her patron Yoshikawa (Masahiko Tsugawa) because of his wife (Satoe has been his concubine for 200,000 Yen per month). Satoe tries to win him back, but then his own son seduces Terucho (Kaho Minami), which makes Yoshikawa so furious that he breaks up with Satoe altogether, proving himself to be the ultimate hypocrite. His son though wants to see Terucho again, and ultimately rapes her. Terucho has her revenge though for being first used then abused, by reporting him to the police for rape, then telling Yoshikawa's wife that Yoshikawa has fucked her as well - which might strain the relationship between Mr and Mrs Yoshikawa. That doesn't win Yoshikawa back of course, but at least both Satoe and Terucho get even ...

Satoe's financial situation is a bit strained, but she knows she could make good money from Tokiko, would she make her into a geisha. Tokiko has always known this would one day be her fate so she doesn't object, but her initiation costs a lot of money, and to get that kind of money without the help of Yoshikawa, Satoe turns to the erstwhile rival for her affections, an ugly and somewhat despicable man, and even has sex with him in return for the needed sum. It's only then that Satoe has second thoughts about exposing Tokiko to the ritual of becoming a geisha which also involves her defloration by a paying customer, which will ultimately make her a prostitute.

Tokiko has no objections and the film ends just before she is deflowered ...

 

A very humane film that's also great in its honesty: The Geisha House is one of the few geisha-films that neither drowns its story in Japanese clichées à la Memoirs of a Geisha, nor does it try to glorify the profession as a whole, instead it shows geishas in a very honest light, as woman who might be only a little above prostitutes, but after all they are human beings and deserve as much respect as any other human being - and this way, The Geisha House manages to take the side of the geishas without even trying to find excuses for what they are doing or blocking out the seedier aspects of their profession. Add to that a very competent cast, very fluent storytelling and an elegant but far from glossy directorial effort and you got a pretty good film.

Recommended.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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