Three little Geisha (1973) review


While the late Ryuichi Takamori might not be the most well-known and respected director from the sixties and the seventies, he was very prolific in this period. He directed, for instance, the three films in Samurai’sLullaby series (1966-1967) which starred Sonny Chiba. In 1971, he also, again with Sonny Chiba in the lead, the two last films in the Kamikaze Cop series.

Besides making crime action movies, Takamori also directed more lighthearted erotic films, like Three Little Geisha (1973).


Just when the summer holiday has started, two high school girls, Ikuyo (Rimiko Sawa) and Yoshiko (Mimi Fukada) decide to lift to Nishi-Izu, work there for 20 days, and, after making enough money, spend the rest of the summer at Okinawa. Yet, things do not go as planned and they end up accepting a job near Amagi Hot Springs to stay the night.  

At the hot springs, a party is underway. The doctors have ordered some geisha, but they have not turned up yet. The hotel receptionist calls Manno-ya, the geisha house, and Oman (-) the owner, the same lady that gave our two high school girl a job and a place to stay for the night, sees no other option than to ask them to become instant Geisha. They are, much to Oman’s surprise, an instant success. The following day, both girls are challenged by Kaoru (Setsuko Tanabe) to decide who is the better geisha.  

Three Little Geisha (1973) by Ryuichi Takamori

Three little Geisha is a lighthearted and slightly vulgar comedy. Takamori’s comedy could even be understood as one of the earliest attempts to capitalize on the kawaii craze that was slowly conquering Japan and the erotic value of such female kawaii-ness, a kawaii-ness defined by immatureness and childishness [幼ない]. Three little Geisha is not only full of explicit sexual references, brought into play via speech or (perverted) acts, but also consists of a layer of not-so-subtle sexual innuendo, introduced into the narrative via visual elements (e.g. eating long “phallic” sausages, the use of syringe as a phallic symbol, … etc.) or via a play with the signifier.

The main dynamic that drives Three Little Geisha is – and this should not surprise anyone – a certain sexual dynamic of male desire. Takamori’s narrative is based on the supposed fact that men sexually desire youthful ‘virginal’ women and that they satisfy and generate their sexual thirst and phallic sense by gazing and interacting, often via perverse jokes and acts, with women they (visually) sexually objectify (Psycho-note 1). Ikuyo and Yoshiko’s success lies, first and foremost, in the fact that they allow themselves, due to their cute sexual innocence and the fact that they do not really know the formal manners of a geisha, to be exploited by men who want to satisfy their sexual thirst and fuel their phallic sense.

Three Little Geisha (1973) by Ryuichi Takamori

Yet, our girls (Ikuyo, Yoshiko, and Kaoru), while not truly conscious of this phallic dynamic, do not let themselves be passively exploited by this male phallic gaze, but assume an active role within the dynamic that puts them into a passive sexualized position. They, in fact, succeed to manipulate the dynamic in their favour. They dupe the male Other in believing he exploits them, while, in truth, it is his narrow focus on phallic pleasure and gaining a phallic sense that, while beyond our girls’ understanding, is exploited for their financial gain. But the danger of not fully knowing the phallic dynamic (of foreplay) they are manipulating is that they, by remaining, essentially, blind to men’s true intentions, are, at all times, in danger of being physically exploited (i.e. sexual assault). Can our girls gain an understanding of the male ‘sexual’ mind and manipulate it, in full conscious of their role as female sexual object, to use to please the male Other?     

Most of the comedy featured in Three Little Geisha is relational and function of the fabric of interactions, be it an expressive reaction on someone’s (dumb or surprising) statement, the style of catfights, … etc. Yet, there are also lighthearted moments that are more situational in nature (e.g. the way the receptionist tries (and fails) to keep the doctor in wait for the geisha entertained) and some comical moments that are, first and foremost, function of the signifier, be it a certain sexual lustful wordplay or a pun-like delivered statement.

Three Little Geisha (1973) by Ryuichi Takamori

The composition of Three Little Geisha consists of a straightforward mix of fixed moments and crude dynamic moments (cine-note 1). The composition, where nothing truly stand outs, does give the narrative a pleasant rhythm. The lightheartedness of the narrative is function of two different elements: the music and the performances. The acting performances stand out due to their over-acting, but a kind of over-acting that is focused on giving our female leads a youthful and charming cuteness, on realizing their childish cuteness visually (and erotically) for the male spectator. Yet, the dependence on over-acting for lighthearted or comedic effect might put of some spectators – enjoying Japanese comedic over-acting is a bit of an acquired taste.    

Three Little Geisha is a pleasant but largely forgettable experience. Yet, Takamori’s narrative does more than just serve some youthful actresses for the visual enjoyment of the male spectator, but also allows said spectator to laugh with what is essentially his own phallic stupidity.  


Psycho-note 1: Freud’s theory concerning the Witz as requiring three people is beautifully illustrated here. The presence of the youthful female other is a prerequisite for sexual wit to be exchanged among the doctors and for this wit to be effective in producing comical lust for these doctors.

Cine-note 1: The crudeness of the dynamic moments, be it tracking or spatial movement (zoom-in or zoom-out), varies widely. Yet, true fluid dynamism is not present within the composition.   

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