Tales of a Golden Geisha (1990)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

Original Title: Ageman

, 1990. . Screenplay by Jûzô Itami. Cinematography by . Produced by , Jûzô Itami. Music by . Production Design by . Film Editing by .

Nayoko is found abandoned as a baby and raised by foster parents who love her well, then in her adolescence send her to be trained as a geisha, pretty much the only hope of upward mobility for their economic class. She does well at learning the arts of proscribed comfort and entertainment that the role entails, taking on a wealthy priest as benefactor who sets her up in her own life-size doll house where she performs her functions and duties until his death.

Having educated herself during her tenure with the holy man, and having been left a respectable inheritance in his will, Nayoko goes to work for a bank and brings with her a reputation she has established as an ageman, a slang, somewhat derogatory term for a woman who brings good luck to the men she pals around with. After a vicious meet-cute with bank executive Mondo Suzuki, she falls in love with him and turns his life around, his disasters with the three women he was deceiving and his even more devastating business failures become successes with Nayoko by his side. With the confidence of his success, however, he quickly goes back to his womanizing ways and begins cheating on Nayoko with all three of his exes. They break up and she goes back to the life of a geisha, taking up with an aged patron who gets her involved in a scheme to rig the country’s federal elections.

Feeling less jovial than his more outrageously humorous indictments of his country’s social problems in the past, director Juzo Itami sharply criticizes patriarchal culture in a series of amusing, perceptive sequences that are beautifully driven by ’s elegant performance in the lead. Nayoko’s lot in life, we are told, is ironically the same whether she is professionally subordinated to a man or seeking love as an independent woman, in fact things go better for her when she takes on the rules and regulations of geisha life.

As with most of his previous films, Itami fills out his singular message and premise with a lengthy running time and host of characters and situations, rather overdoing it on both but justifying it with a series of great performances and his infallible talent for creating a fully realized, wholly credible fictional world. Where he disappoints is in allowing Nayoko’s significance to the plot drop in the last third, she’s not a big enough part of the film’s catharsis and we never get to see her using any of knowledge she has gained throughout her life experiences.

Toronto International Film Festival: 1990

Venice Film Festival: In Competition


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