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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
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.