Mugiko (Yasuko Tomita) moves from Izu to Tokyo, starting at a city school and joining her aunt’s geisha house in Asakusa. Given the name Suzume, she begins work helping the other geisha and learning the dances and entertaining duties of the house. Meanwhile at school she struggles to fit in, finally finding a role for herself when she is asked to dance at the school festival.
“Busu”, written by Makiko Uchidate and directed by Jun Ichikawa, is a coming-of-age story dealing with ideas of tradition meeting contemporary society. The sequence of Suzume running along behind the rickshaws through inner-city Tokyo shows this peculiar blend of long-standing ritual in a modern setting. The depiction of high-school life is enjoyable, as well as Suzume’s sense of isolation after her move. Ichikawa’s direction is endlessly creative, allowing the character-driven story to flow without cleaving to any particular plot. Suzume’s experiences at high-school and at the geisha house are realistic without resorting to melodrama. There is a potential love interest in the athletic classmate, but whatever connection there is between them is left largely unexplored. The score is varied, with pop song interludes accompanying montages of Suzume exploring the city. It is a film that emphasises Suzume’s point of view, her wide-eyed innocence, her sense of isolation, her hopes and fears. Occasionally seemingly incidental details, such as armed police storming into a building, or a woman accosting what we presume is an unfaithful lover, all help to establish a lived in world, one in which Suzume is keenly aware of the dangers.
When she comes to perform her dance at the school show, the audience are completely behind her. This symbol of the traditional values she has been taught seems to be a life-affirming moment for her, connecting her with her family and the past. In a sense Suzume’s story is timeless, the difficulties she faces in fitting in and finding her own way through the various familial and cultural pressures one that has been told many times throughout the generations. Her performance perhaps suggesting that this cycle, of searching for independence before finally settling on a balance between freedom and restraint, is one that is destined to be endlessly repeated. The final moments of the film see Suzume reunited with her mother having experienced life for herself she appears comfortable and confident in relating to her as a woman.