Directed by Hideo Gosha
Review by Jason Tosta
Released by: AnimEigo
Running Time: 144 Minutes
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: Japanese Audio, English Subtitles
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: Cast & Crew Bios, Trailers, Image Gallery, Geisha Notes, Program Notes
Trailer Online: Yes
After practicing my speed reading skills, I’m ready for a subtitle extravaganza. On the bill today is the 1983 Hideo Gosha historical Japanese melodrama THE GEISHA.
Momowaka (Kimiko Ikegami) is the top geisha in the great Yokiro Geisha House in Kochi, Japan circa 1933. The life of Yokiro’s top geisha is a tragic and hollow one. Her mother, also a geisha, was murdered when Momowaka was just a baby. The relationship with her father is strained and distant to say the least. She’s never been in love, and she desperately desires to be. Being top geisha just isn’t enough for her anymore.
She was sold into the life of a geisha at the age of twelve by her father, Katsuzo (Ken Ogata). He still lives very near to her and is a recruiter for the Yokiro house. He buys young girls and sells them into the geisha life so they can work off family debt. The madam of Yokiro, Osode (Mitsuko Baisho), runs the house with an iron fist and it’s hinted at that she and Katsuzo had an affair in the past. Regardless, their relationship now is strictly business. Katsuzo has also taken in a young girl, Tamako (Atsuko Asano). Old enough to make her own choices, she wants to get out and try all of the different jobs available to a girl at this time period (geisha, prostitute, bar owner.) This leads to lots of problems with Katsuzo and an eventual clashing turned friendship with Momowaka.
In a subplot, the Yakuza mob wants to branch out and take over Kochi, but knows that the Yokiro house has the local government in their pocket. With the Yokiro being the key to expanding their power, the Yakuza decide to muscle their way in. This is something Katsuzo won’t stand for.
THE GEISHA is a wonderful film. The director Hideo Gosha was a master of the samurai film. Films like GOYOKIN (1969) and HITOKIRI (1969) are classics of the genre. He was a criminally underrated artist. THE GEISHA is a later work and is a melodrama with just a little gangster film spread on top. The cinematography is very stylish. The shot compositions are beautiful. Each shot could function on its own as a still photograph. By the way, this film won nine Japanese Academy Awards in 1984. This is high grade stuff.
The acting is superb. Ken Ogata (Katsuzo) is a powerhouse. His performance is perfectly understated. Kimiko Ikegami (Momowaka) is also truly a pleasure to watch. She is both vulnerable and mighty, carrying large parts of the narrative on her shoulders effortlessly. Great performance.
Be forewarned, this is a long film. 144 minutes is a long time to sit for a melodrama, but it’s worth it. This is a really satisfying watch. The fight scene in the bar bathroom between Momowaka and Tamako is worth the price of admission alone. Dirty, relentless, angry, vicious and beautiful all at the same time. THE GEISHA is solid, character-driven entertainment, with drama to spare.
AnimEigo’s DVD release is excellent. It features Japanese audio and English subtitles. You can select both the color of the subtitles (white or yellow) and the content of the subtitles (dialogue and descriptive captions together or either one separately.) It’s all about the options. The special features consist of Cast and Crew bios, an Image Gallery, Trailers, Program Notes ( which are text pages with definitions of terms used in the film), and Geisha Notes (This text based feature explains the history of geisha.). It’s a great collection of extras and I recommend viewers check out the Program Notes before watching the movie.
THE GEISHA is an epic melodrama that hits virtually all of the right notes. Watch this film! It’s truly the work of a master filmmaker. Besides, reading subtitles is good for you. It keeps the mind sharp and nimble.