Apparently this began life as an update (albeit a bit toned down) of Mizoguchi’s earlier Sisters of the Gion, though it didn’t quite end up that way. Tony Rayns’ introductory comments were useful, for me at least, in trying to get my head around this, particularly his observation that the post-war geisha was treated like (and, to at least some extent, really was) essentially a higher grade of prostitute in a way that the traditional pre-war geisha wasn’t. This, then, kind of explains the plight of Eiko in this film; quite apart from the fact that becoming a geisha is about the only recourse she has in her situation (mother dead, essentially abandoned by useless father to the care of horrible uncle), she wants to be a traditional geisha rather than just a skilled hooker, but her more “modern” attitudes will threaten to be the undoing not only of herself, but also her mistress Miyoharu who’s taken her in and brought her up. In the post-war climate presented here, the geisha are barely even treated like human beings; instead they’re both slightly expensive pawns in business dealings between the film’s two main male characters, and when it comes to business they can’t count on female solidarity (shades of Women of the Night), not when the madame of one tea house illegally blacklists them from working anywhere in the Gion. Apparently this tale of “intangible cultural assets” is generally considered lesser Mizoguchi, which seems a bit unfair, I’d say it’s at least as good as any of his other films that I’ve seen… although certainly I don’t think you could describe it as uplifting (just like all his other films I’ve seen thus far, then), despite which there’s still an approximate note of hope in there: whatever travails the two will face in future, Miyoharu will be there to shield Eiko from them as best as she can.