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Sisters of Gion: A Conflict of Value Systems Essay

The film Sisters of Gion directed by Kenji Mizoguchi in 1936 shows the way in which two women cope with the experience of being a geisha. It should be borne in mind that the main characters are sisters who have different educational backgrounds and values. In this movie, the director confronts two opposing views. In particular, Umekichi is able to reconcile herself with the world of prostitution.

In her opinion, it is her duty to serve men. In contrast, Omocha does not think that servitude is an inseparable part of her fate. In the film, Kenji Mizoguchi contrasts these worldviews and shows none of these approaches can safeguard an individual against pitfalls in a society in which a person may be treated like a mere object by other people.

This is the main thesis that should be examined in greater detail. Overall, this movie can be analyzed from the perspective of feminism since it throws light on the hardships that women had to encounter at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Yet, this cinematographic work is a good illustration of how a society can come to the point when its traditional norms are no longer relevant. These perspectives are helpful for gaining better understanding of this cinematographic work. These are some of the questions that should not be overlooked.

It should be kept in mind that this movie throws light on different systems of values that existed in Japan at the beginning of the twentieth century. In particular, Umekichi’s behavior represents such a concept as giri which can be translated as obligation, commitment or duty (“Early Sound Film and Mizoguchi Kenji”). To a great extent, this moral code is rooted in Japanese culture for many centuries.

In this case, one can speak about Umekichi’s duty to her patron Shimbei Furusawa who is a bankrupt entrepreneur (Sisters of Gion). Umekichi is willing to accept the responsibilities of a geisha whose major concern is supposed to be the pleasure of a patron (Sisters of Gion). In contrast, her sister Omocha thinks that such a duty cannot be imposed on a person.

To some degree, she represents a feminist perception of women’s role as well as their duties. She is convinced that Umekichi has to leave Shimbei. These distinctions between the two sisters can be partly explained by the fact that they were educated in a different way.

From her childhood, Umekichi was trained to be a geisha, while Omocha had a chance to attend a public school. Moreover, she is more familiar with urban culture. This issue is critical for explaining the behavior of the protagonists.

Overall, one can say that Omocha is often described by scholars and critics “a schemer and a user” (McDonald 23). Certainly, she does not deny that she is a geisha, but she is not content with the role of a “plaything” (McDonald 24). She believes that in the society, which is dominated by men, a woman has to think primarily about her own interests.

Therefore, she cannot accept the idea that Umekichi has a relationship with a bankrupt businessman who cannot offer anything to her. This is one of the main issues that should be considered. Omocha makes everything possible to make sure that her sister can derive some benefit from other people.

The two sisters do not come into direct conflict with one another, but their behavior is aimed showing that a certain value system is more effective. This is one of the main points that can be made.

One can say that Kenji Mizoguchi does not give an answer which can help the viewers determine which system of values is more acceptable. One can say that he prompts the viewers to reach their own conclusions. At the end of the film, both sisters suffer misfortune. In particular, Umekichi is abandoned by her lover Shimbei (Sisters of Gion). Shimbei leaves her as soon as he is offered a new job.

However, he feels virtually to attachment to a woman who cared about him, even at the time when he was penniless. So, her devotion to the principle of giri does not bring her any rewards. This is one of the main aspects that can be identified. In her turn, Omocha is heavily injured in the course of an accident. It should be mentioned that he is abducted by a shop clerk who she deceived in the past.

Omocha falls from the car, and she is in the custody of her sister (Burch 226). One can say that she no longer produces the impression of self-sufficiency and independence. This is one of the issues that should be taken into account by the viewers because Kenji Mizoguchi does attempt to evaluate this character’s behavior from an ethical viewpoint.

To a great extent, Omocha can be described as a moga. This is the term which was used to describe women who adopted a different attitude toward the duties of culture, fashion, and gender roles (Kirihara 36). The director does not attempt to criticize her values or attitudes.

However, the film demonstrates that these values cannot be easily incorporated into the society dominated by males. Moreover, the main characters belong to a group of people who are not allowed to express their discontent. This is one of the main issues that can be distinguished.

It is possible to say that this movie can be used for explaining the changes that took place in the Japanese society at the beginning of the twentieth society. The film-makers portray Japan a country with rigid ethical and behavioral norms. Nevertheless, it is also transformed due to various factors such as economic development or growing familiarity with western culture (Kirihara 36).

These trends profoundly affected Omocha’s attitudes and values. However, one cannot say the same thing about her sister. This theme plays a critical work in this movie, and it is important for the assessment of this film. This is one of the main points that can be made.

One can say that Sisters of Gion is a film that throws light on the transformation of a very conservative society. The two protagonists represent a conflict of values and worldviews. This cinematographic work explores the experiences of women who have to live in the world of prostitution. One of them is content with the role of a geisha, while the other does not want to admit that her existence should be submitted to the will of men.

Yet, both of them have to live in the world in which women can be treated like objects or playthings. The main characters respond to this challenge in different ways. This is the main argument that can be put forward. Apart from that, this movie is helpful for understanding the trends within the Japanese society in the early thirties.

Works Cited

Burch, Noel. To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Print.

Early Sound Film and Mizoguchi Kenji. Quizlet. 17 Jun. 2011. Web.

Kirihara, Donald. Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. Print.

McDonald, Keiko. Reading a Japanese Film: Cinema in Context. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2006. Print.

Sisters of Gion. Ex. Prod. Kenji Mizoguchi. Tokyo: Minoru Miki, 1936. DVD.

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W., Jaelynn. "Sisters of Gion: A Conflict of Value Systems." IvyPanda, 15 July 2019,

1. Jaelynn W. "Sisters of Gion: A Conflict of Value Systems." IvyPanda (blog), July 15, 2019.


W., Jaelynn. "Sisters of Gion: A Conflict of Value Systems." IvyPanda (blog), July 15, 2019.


W., Jaelynn. 2019. "Sisters of Gion: A Conflict of Value Systems." IvyPanda (blog), July 15, 2019.


W., J. (2019) 'Sisters of Gion: A Conflict of Value Systems'. IvyPanda, 15 July.

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