Sunday, 4 July 2010


Mikio Naruse’s first sound film, Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts centres on the relationship between three siblings living in a geisha house run by their curmudgeonly mother Hahaoya. Oren is the prodigal older sister, independent-minded but somewhat ignorant in her plans to start a new life with her husband. Osome is the middle sister and the most responsible of the three, playing shamisen in local bars to support their mother. Youngest sister Chieko, a cabaret dancer, seeks little more in life than love and affection, and appears to find it in Aoyama, an older shop owner. It is her choice in life that Hahaoya disapproves of the most, and she spares no consideration for her innocence.

Naruse makes great use of sound to bind together the sisters’ stories, drawing comparisons by use of incidental music and voiceover. At times it is hard to follow the plot, not only for the overlapping storylines, but also because Hahaoya treats all the geishas in the house as her own children. This is perhaps what sets it apart from Naruse’s earlier work, as the family dynamic is corrupted and replaced by a disciplinarian hierarchy which blurs the lines between work and play. There is warmth between the sisters, particularly Osome and Chieko as they worry about Oren’s eventual fate, but the stronger feeling is that of distance. Chieko’s relationship plays out in secret and is made to feel unnatural, and by the end of the film one wonders if she will follow Oren’s path.

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