Along with Osaka Elegy (1936), Sisters of the Gion is widely considered one of Kenji Mizoguchi's finest prewar films. The movie takes a realistic look at the life of a geisha in Kyoto's Gion district.
Omocha is a geisha with modern girl sensibilities; she resents the way that men callously treat women, and she is inclined to ignore the traditions and expectations of her profession. She sets out to beat men at their own game, jumping from patron to patron (a no-no in the geisha business) in order to attain money, nice clothes, and fancy meals.
In the process, she deceives and ruins a bumbling, though sincere, store clerk. Her sister Umekichi, on the other hand, possesses all the qualities of the legendary geisha. In spite of Omocha's mockery, she remains devoted to her bankrupt former patron.
Eventually, the wronged store clerk exacts revenge against Omocha, landing her in the hospital, while Umekichi's patron abandons her, returning to his wife. As in much of his oeuvre, Mizoguchi shows a deep sensitivity towards the plight of women in society and, as in much of his postwar work, he emphasizes the inevitability of fate.
Neither Omocha's guile nor Umekichi's loyalty can do much to alter their cruel predicaments; however, this acknowledgement of their fate yields little of the transcendence seen in such later films as Life of Oharu (1955).