Saturday, July 21, 2012

Memoirs of a Geisha (book and movie review)

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha.
Author: Arthur Golden


The novel, focused on a magnificent yet endearing life f a Japanese woman who struggled her life from being a daughter of a fisherman in Yoroido to becoming one of the most respected geisha in all Japan is a story of sorrow, love, deceit and Japanese culture as well.

Geisha meaning “artisan” were Japanese women trained and nurtured from their early years to become moving work of art. They perform various performances for entertaining mostly men. With exquisite elegance and talent, they move, sing, talk and dance to please their client’s delights. Masked with white face powder and extremely red painted lips clothed in artistically woven kimonos, they yield such mystery that their own life stories are forbidden.

Some people in the west as well as those from Christian countries view them as prostitutes for they are not allowed to fall in love and marry yet they have special relationships, may be sexual, with their customers. After reading the book by heart, I realized that they were just born in a different society with different norms. Their affairs may seem to be lacking in “intimate feeling” or what we call “love” but they are still treated with respect and admiration not just like prostitutes who are judged as dirty and low. A kept woman, as what the geisha Sayuri had implied on herself is someone who is being taken cared of like a gem though not bonded with marriage because geisha were not meant to be married those days.

Of course I am expecting that each reader have their different kind of perspective of the selling of Chiyo and her sister, Satsu by Mr. Ichiro Tanaka if it was condemnable or practical. For me, Mr. Tanaka was just thinking of means to make young Chiyo’s life better and that is to become a future geisha with all its splendid advantages considering her beauty and cleverness.

Reading the book also provided me with such new trivia and learning of some arts geisha do. The first one is music. At a young age, student geisha were being taught to play the shamisen, a Japanese guitar like musical instrument ad dancing, the most anticipated performance and well admired by men because of their sensuality.

Physically, becoming a geisha made Sayuri’s life better that she did not suffer starvation and experienced luxuries that she would not have received if she as not taken from their village by fate. When little Chiyo decided to run away from the okiya with her sister, Pumpkin resisted to come with her because she already knows what it is like to be hungry and homeless compared to being regularly fed and enjoy basic human needs in the okiya.

When Chiyo became a maid because she disgraced the okiya by running away, her life turned harder and her future, obscure because she would be spending her life being a maid paying her debts not like when she is a student geisha with more promising life. Mother and granny may be viewed as cruel but for me, they were just victims of their society, and it is passed from generations of geisha. Auntie, however is more sympathetic and comforting, maybe this was due to her past failure of being a failed geisha that she was just concerned of the two girls’ future.

"We must use whatever methods we can to understand the movement of the universe around
us and time our actions so that we are not fighting the currents, but moving with them", as said by Sayuri in page 127 implies that we should make our destiny not by doing all that we want of what our hearts really feel. Sometimes, fighting the currents may lead us to destruction and bravery to endure and oppose what the universe will give us. Moving with the currents will make us safer as we travel along time because we have no choice or else we will suffer. This viewpoint differ from that in the west is due to their culture, we all know that geisha were limited of making their own choices in life.

Sayuri’s focusing of attention to Nobu was obviously not her choice but of Mameha. From the start, he did resemble an admiration of her cleverness that he was first attracted to a geisha knowing that he really disdains geisha. In some ways, I feel pity for Nobu the fact that having a feeling for geisha may lead to false hopes and deceits.

In comparing Japanese versus western eroticism, the main fetish of Japanese men is the neck of the woman as counterpart for legs in the west. This is the main factor the women in kimono show so much flesh in their neck areas.

Geisha are very superstitious and perform some rituals before going to the teahouse. One of these was sparking a flint stone as the geisha leave the house for good luck. They tend to always consult their almanac for guidance.

The narrative that Arthur Golden exhibited was indeed daring for an American man to do. Understanding Japanese women who differ so much in values, habits and attitudes from the west needs keen research and analysis to fully generate a translator’s note. The narration of Sayuri as the main narrative one voice character of the story captured all my senses that I, as a reader could place myself into hers and took me into a fictional yet sensual world of her mysterious and ardous life. As a woman, I could fully relate when she told how she fell in love, envied other’s kimono and admire beauty.

A geisha with a danna as what Sayuri have told is a “kept woman” but in my view of this relationship, they are still not free. Mameha’s full submission to her danna, who is the baron resembles being encapsulated into a world where the man have the complete power over the woman and she have no choice but to obey like when Mameha aborted three children as per requested by the baron.

When little Chiyo was given the name “Sayuri” in her debut as a new maiko, she felt that her young self died within her. The two differs in such way that she now has become more chained into another world, a world with deceit, suffering and beauty. She also had to submit herself to her younger sister and live according to rules. In the other way around, young Chiyo is still present in Sayuri because the water characteristics were still there like being clever, smart and a fighter.

The novel also has a lavish ingredient of World War II’s aftermath. We all know that Japan suffered hell-like deluge after losing from the axis forces. I have learned how it is like for the Japanese to suffer this event and how some geisha manages to survive though some of them died.

What I loved in this book is that as a woman, I can relate to Sayuri, we may be different in our life stories but I know what it felt like being imprisoned to a world you are forced to be in and you have no choice but to be good. Women are very mysterious beings yet powerful, they are stronger than men in terms or emotions and sufferings. Geisha may be looked upon differently by other cultures but for me, they should be admired and respected for they endured so much sacrifices and sufferings just to perform arts. They are the one of the most durable and magnificent kinds in this world of women.

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha [2005]
Cast: Suzuka Ohgo, Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh
Director: Rob Marshall
Written By: Arthur Golden (Novel), Robin Swicord (Screenplay)

This movie adaptation of Mr. Arthur Golden’s celebrated novel has been a center of attention and criticisms of its viewers. The cast provided such a very powerful impact and realistic adaptation of its characters that they give s much justice to the roles especially my favorite actress Ziyi Zhang, a Chinese superstar and the two main geisha roles portrayed by Michelle Yeoh as the magnanimous Mameha and sexy Gong Li who played as Hatsumomo, the main character’s deadly rival. One thing is noticed is that these three main roles were given to actresses in Chinese descent not in Japanese which is the antiquity of the characters in the story. In spite of this, the cast emerged successfully depicting their roles as geisha with all its elegance and sensual effect. I so much loved Zi Yi’s makeup the she looked like a real Japanese woman with blue grey eyes which is the character’s most emphasized feature. The kimonos in the film colored my eyes and made me more amazed this Japanese clothing. Michelle Yeoh effectively portrayed Mameha with all her regal and grand posture as well as Gong Li who gave Hatsumomo’s character with disdainful yet dreary feel.

Throughout the movie, we can see that the “water” element was given emphasis whenever the scenes and settings change. At the start, the scene was that of the sea with Chiyo’s father and Mr. Tanaka speaking. The element were also present in Chiyo’s first bath in the okiya, meeting the chairman at the bridge, Sayuri washing fabrics during the post war and the last scene, after the chairman proposed to be her danna. For me, this is mainly because; the main character’s personality is seen with too much water which in Chinese astrology is smart and could endure sufferings just to achieve their goals.

Some scenes in the books were bypassed but the complete essence of the story was still there. My favorite scene was that of Chiyo by the training of Mameha transformed herself into a magnificent maiko looking in the mirror amazed at her self and that of her dancing with fans in her debut. The movie effectively exhibited the colorful, mysterious and captivating life of Japanese women artisans.


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