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Film / Twin Sisters of Kyoto

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Twin Sisters of Kyoto (古都, "Koto"—"the old city" or "the old capital") is a 1963 film from Japan directed by Noboru Nakamura.

Chieko is a 20-year-old woman who still lives with her parents. Her father Takashiro is a designer of kimonos. Chieko's parents have no other children, and in fact she is not their biological daughter. Dialogue reveals the disturbing truth: Chieko's parents found her outside as an infant, apparently abandoned, and simply picked her up and took her away. Her father worries that they may have straight-up kidnapped a baby that had simply been left alone for a moment. Chieko for her part yearns to find out about her biological relations.

That mystery is solved when Chieko runs into a woman named Naeko, who as it turns out, is Chieko's identical twin sister. (Both characters are played by actress Shima Iwashita.) Naeko reveals that Chieko was abandoned. It seems that in rural Japan especially, twins are considered unlucky, so Chieko's bio parents simply set her outside for someone to pick up. Naeko herself was orphaned when her parents both died when she was young.

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The sisters' tentative relationship is frustrated by class differences, with Naeko being working-class while Chieko's adoptive father is well-to-do (even if his business is failing). There's also the matter of Hideo, a weaver who is besotted with Chieko but winds up confusing her with her twin sister.

Adaptation of a Japanese novel called The Old Capital, or in Japanese, "Koto". The novel was adapted again in 1980 by Kon Ichikawa, in 2005 as a TV miniseries, and yet again in 2016.


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Tropes:

  • As You Know: Chieko asking her father again about her background leads him to again tell the story about how he and his wife Shige simply scooped her up one day when they found her outside unattended. He even complains that he's told her everything already.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Poor Hideo. His crush on Chieko goes nowhere because of their difference in social status, while Naeko rebuffs him, correctly figuring out that she'd only be a Chieko substitute. He's left alone.
  • Doorstop Baby: Chieko worries that being a foundling means that she is doomed to a lower social status.
  • Downer Ending: Naeko just can't get past the social gulf between herself and her sister. Despite Chieko welcoming her into the household, Naeko says she won't come back again, and leaves Chieko's home with a sobbing "sayonara".
  • Foreshadowing: Chieko and her friend Masako are out and about when Masako happens to spot a woman who is the spitting image of Chieko. Sure enough, it's Chieko's twin sister, who is introduced into the story a few scenes later.
  • Geisha: Takashiro visits a geisha house. Things get squicky when it's revealed that he is waiting on a 14-year-old apprentice geisha who won't be "available" for two more years.
  • Identical Twin Mistake: Hideo meets Naeko when he accidentally gives her the obi (a kimono's sash) that he weaved for Chieko.
  • The Jail Bait Wait: Chieko's father has his eye on a 14-year-old apprentice geisha, but he has to wait until she's 16.
  • The Last DJ: Takashiro is a traditionalist who scorns the bright, flashy colors of latter-day kimonos. As a result his business is suffering.
  • Narrator: A narrator fills in some details and gives some background information. The narrator notes that while Kyoto escaped destruction in World War II and thus has the traditional machiya wooden houses, those houses are themselves less than 100 years old as most of the city was destroyed in a fire in the 1880s. Later the narrator talks about the Gion Festival, which is where Naeko and Chieko meet.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Sort of. The story ends with a crying Naeko walking away from Chieko, going home. But after that there are a few static shots of the forests around Kyoto and the traditional rooftops, before a "The End" credit pops up on the screen.
  • The Place: The original Japanese title is Koto ("the old city" or "the old capital"), which is basically a nickname for Kyoto.
  • Separated at Birth: Chieko and Naeko were twins separated at birth when their parents abandoned Chieko.
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