Gion Bayashi 祇園囃子
Continuing onto the oldies of Japan that I said I would be discussing. First we had a look back to 1985 with ‘Taifu Club’. We then went a bit back into time 13 years earlier (1972) with ‘Tabi no Omosa’. I found yet another which is really old, well, by our standard that is.
It is ‘Gion Bayashi’ – A 1953 drama movie about a girl who wishes to be a Maiko/Geisha after her mother’s passing and moves to an old acquaintance of her mother’s to learn the ways of a Maiko. The film was directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and the story was set in post-war Japan – Not the best of times. The movie was old school black and white but the version I watched was touched up a bit so it was very watchable.
The reason I wanted to talk about these movies was to show how even back then yuri was already a thing. But while in the other two movies the scenes were mature, in this movie we got the yuri most of us are used to that isn’t in a pron title. It was so light and could easily be dismissed which is why this won’t be the typical movie post. It is going to be very short (serious this time) because I am only going to explain this one scene. Actually this movie is one that is worth the title of this blog. You would not see it unless you were looking for it which is why the yuri-goggles are needed for this one.
To tell the truth I wasn’t expecting anything! I went in looking for some nice family bonds and that was all but I instead got something much more. It was subtle but when it clicked my emotions went into over-drive. With all the talk of Geisha not being allowed to fall in love with their clients but there being some kind of rule of having a patron that was like their husband even though they weren’t married, with the men being in love with the main girls too made yuri almost impossible. And so I wasn’t expecting it.
Eiko (Whose Geisha name is Miyoe) is one of our mains – a 16 year old who leaves home after her mother dies and her step-father falls into a depression and after he tries to use her body as payback for him taking care of Eiko’s mother’s funeral Eiko decides to go live with an acquaintance of her parents who was a Geisha in the city. Her father, her real father, had left them was ridden with sickness which was sending his business into major debts so of course Eiko wouldn’t have gone to him even if she had wanted to, and she did not! She resented him for discarding her and her mother. And so Eiko goes to this person, our other main Miyoharu, who was kind of like her Aunt as she was great friends with Eiko’s mother and even entertained her father back in the day.
Eiko begs Miyoharu to teach her the ways of a Maiko but things aren’t as simple as Eiko thinks they are. Eiko would need the consent of her guardians but things don’t quite work out. Eiko’s father wants nothing to do with her (He wants to cut his ties with her because he can no longer support her or something), her mother is dead and her step-father a very no-no seeing as she had ran away from home in the first place. Miyoharu thinks of the matter after getting the reply back from Eiko’s real father and in the end, decides to take in Eiko as her apprentice and Eiko represents Miyoharu’s house (There was family traditions about these things because Geisha was a serious business in Japan).
Sadly it is not Miyoharu herself that trains Eiko. She joins the school for Maiko and even sadder we don’t see much, if any interactions at all between Eiko and Miyoharu during her year as a student. I was actually very affected by this. I was looking forward to seeing the two bond and grow closer but everything was just so mechanical. I guess they were trying to show the devotion and determination Eiko had towards her goal of becoming a Geisha and it the fact that she was ready to start professionally after only a year did confirm that but still. This lack of relationship development got to me good.
But even if they didn’t show them bond the way that I just stated and had hoped they would, the story still managed to show the strength of their bond in other various ways. For example despite not being that rich Miyoharu still accepted the responsibility of helping Eiko become a Geisha. Becoming one was not cheap, as we saw that Miyoharu had to rely to her friend and geisha Business proprietor of the area – Okimi. There was a cost to starting as a Geisha and in fact Eiko’s kimono alone apparently cost 300,000 bucks which as one of Miyoharu’s assistants said, no matter how hard she worked or how successful she would be, Eiko would never be able to afford that amount of money. Miyoharu put this much risk in Eiko and she never once asked for something in return.
Meanwhile Eiko was stirring all kinds of trouble and it was always Miyoharu that got bitten back. For example as I said, these two had men that were in love (and lust in the case of Eiko) with them. The man in love with Miyoharu was a successful businessman who had come to make business with the city. If the deal was to be successful, the city would be getting loads of jobs and business traffic and the man in charge of this exchange was the one lusting after Eiko. Okimi being almost the most powerful woman there seeing as she ran the Geisha business was also looking forward to the success of the deal.
But the Man was very reluctant to close the deal. As fates would have it he fell in love with Miyoharu and now Miyoharu was also a catalyst in seeing this deal successful. Okimi used this and would push Miyoharu towards the man despite Miyoharu not having any feelings for him but she was a professional and wouldn’t refuse business, especially since she owed Okimi for helping her get Eiko established as a Maiko. Eiko by then was already in business and would go with Miyoharu every time their house was called upon.
Now then, let me say something first. I mentioned a patron before, didn’t I? Well, a Patron was a geisha’s un-official husband, meaning that they would never get married to anyone else and was like a way to keep their clients from taking a claim on them. We find this out when Eiko is speaking to one of her friends at school who unluckily got stuck with an over 50 year old man. Hearing that and fully understanding how serious the issue was and that it was kind of the future of any Maiko, I had resigned myself to a no-yuri movie.
But that fact about a Patron being like a husband to a Maiko and thus their life’s partner/lover is what got me in the end.
You see there is an incident where Miyoharu and Eiko were employed to go to those two men. They were of course split with Miyoharu being left alone with the Business man and Eiko with the Dealer. They were trying to use her as persuasion in getting the Businessman to close the deal. Meanwhile Eiko was left alone with the Dealer who was looking for something way more personal than what a Maiko was paid for. Eiko was of course no ordinary girl and she would never let herself be vandalized because it was her duty. She bit off part of the Dealer’s tongue when she tried to force himself on her and when Miyoharu came over to them after hearing all the screaming, Eiko had like a piece of the guy and his blood in and around her mouth.
Yep, things were fucked up! The Dealer was so pissed (at Miyoharu for some reason and not Eiko) that they had messed up the chance for their city to develop and that got Miyoharu’s house banned from carrying out any more Maiko business! All their contracts they had were cancelled and Miyoharu still was indebted to Okimi! As I mentioned Miyoharu was not that rich and it was in this hard time that Eiko’s father decided to show up to ask for assistance from Miyoharu because his plan to get a loan from Tokyo did not work out. Miyoharu had to give him her valuable items for him to exchange for cash thus leaving her with nothing.
And all through this she never got mad at Eiko or even blame her. But Eiko saw the effects of what she had done and had gone to Okimi to ask for forgiveness. That was when Miyoharu actually first got angry at her. I guess even she did not trust Okimi and what she might have done Eiko and thankfully she did not do anything to her and instead called for Miyoharu. She told her that the only way she could make up for everything was to have the Businessman close the deal and she would do that by letting him become her Patron. She of course goes to him because there were people relying on her. Eiko was relying on her to look after her. Miyoharu gave herself up to the Businessman and it was very hinted at that they slept together.
When Miyoharu returns the next day, she is in a great mood. She is carrying all kinds of gifts and is looking completely opposite of what she had been like the day before. She gives gifts to all her assistants but when she gets to Eiko, Eiko doesn’t accept it. She gets mad at Miyoharu for having forsaken herself, selling her body like that just so she could survive. The two have a bad fight there but both understand each other and their choices. Miyoharu knows that Eiko was right. She had betrayed herself by falling into a loveless relationship for money. Meanwhile Eiko too understood why Miyoharu had to do it. It was all for her and her future. Their family was back in business and they could take care of themselves now.
The scene where Miyoharu breaks down as everything finally gets to her having stayed strong all this time but finally breaking at the weight of it all, and Eiko running to her and comforting her, which was the first show of physical contact between the two was just so….hanyan! It was during this lovely scene that Miyoharu drops the bomb. First she tells Eiko what Eiko means to her. She then declares that from then on, she will be Eiko’s Patron!
Miyoharu said that she would be Eiko’s Patron!!!
Please take a moment to digest what this means.
Are we on the same page yet? Okay. Right then they start getting calls for their services having been re-stated into business and seeing as they were the favorites of the many, well, it would make sense for them to get calls not even a day after getting back into business. For the first time Miyoharu helps Eiko get ready. Usually it was the assistants that helped the two get dressed and put on their make-up but this time Miyoharu readied Eiko. It was such a great touch seeing this and I forgave them waiting these last few minutes to show us this.
Yes, this was like, less than five minutes left and we got out first emotional touch between the two. That moment as Miyoharu held Eiko’s face in her hand while she brushed the iconic white Geisha make-up on her face was such a heart-pincher! But this was not all. We see the two walk together to their next appointment and they look so different from any of the times before.
They look closer somehow and there is this moment where Miyoharu looks to Eiko walking on her right and Eiko looks back at her. The two smile at each other as they walk on and then the screen fades out to a black screen with the words ‘The End’!
Like, you guys probably have no idea what a lovely ending this is! It came out of nowhere and when I looked at the timeline bar, it was almost towards the end. The movie started out promising nothing at all between the two. They did not interact like you would have expected any other characters in their setting to, in fact it was un-unnervingly so, the way they did not talk. But then towards the end the emotions between the two were so real like you had been seeing them bond since the beginning! It just goes to show you how many infinite ways stories can be told!
That execution of their development was one of the things that got to me the most. Even if they didn’t get married, oops, I meant if Miyoharu had not said she would be Eiko’s Patron, I would still have kept this movie. I also don’t know what the deal was with Miyoharu and the Businessman. Was it a one night stand? Maybe it was because he was not from around here and since Miyoharu was still around, and with those gifts, it all points to a one night stand and her getting a huge lump of money from it. Thus maybe there were no complications with Miyoharu being Eiko’s ‘Patron’ while having her own Patron too.
And that’s it about Gion Bayashi. Nothing yuri about it until the very last minutes of the movie but as far as I am concerned, I got rewarded for sitting through the other 80 minutes or so of it. That decision of Miyoharu’s at the end was that fulfilling because I had watched the whole movie and suffered through all those scenes that drunk up all the hope for yuri. Having made that big of a deal about what a Patron was to a Maiko and then Miyoharu choosing to become Eiko’s Patron and then that smile at the end showing that Eiko was super okay with the arrangements was just so satisfying!
Okay that’s enough talk. Until next time….