Sunday, December 18, 2005

Memoirs of a Bloke

I am so fed up with all the fuss about the new Memoirs of a Geisha film. I lived four years in Japan and have seen Geisha working in Kyoto and read a fair bit about the culture. Now the trouble with the whole thing is that it's a hugely romanticised concept based on the idea that men have "ordinary" wives and then go out to indulge their fantasy for "extra-ordinary women" with Geisha girls. Well that doesn't seem very fair does it? Firstly where are the "extra-ordinary men" for the women to hang out with and what about those women who are extra-ordinary wives to start with?

The basic historical context is that since women in ancient Japan were barred from holding down proper jobs they were faced with two options: become a full time house-wife, entirely dependent on hubby for everything with no hope of escape and entirely at his mercy or remain single and work in one of the few professions that allowed women. Geisha was one of those few professions.

Housewives typically had a very tough life in Japan, and to some extent still do, excluded from everyday culture they were effectively slaves in the home. Geisha endured a gruelling beauty regime and continuous training and then worked in an industry in which their job was to pander to the needs of the men who payed their wages. It was devil or the deep blue sea...

They may have a startlingly iconic image that photographs well and reminds us of Japanese historic culture. There may also have been aspects of the life of Geisha which were enjoyable. Ultimately though we're talking about a book - Memoirs of a Geisha - written by a white man. And much as he may have interviewed ex-Geisha as part of his research, he presents the romantic parts of it, not for example the harshness of the other lifestyle options these women faced.

Plus the film uses almost all Chinese actresses! For those of us who know more about the far east than special fried rice, it is really obvious that those actresses aren't Japanese. Look at the shape of their faces! And how rude to trample across centuries of Japanese culture, picking out the bits that suit our westernised tastes and not even invite Japanese actresses to play the parts. Has anyone noticed that on the posters the Geisha girl has blue eyes? Not very realistic lads.

For those who would like to understand Geisha culture, I can recommend Geisha, a book by anthropologist Liza Dalby who spent several years living in Japan and working as a modern day Geisha.

5 Comments:

Blogger BigRedOne said...

Fair play to pick on that most boring of books in your article. I would, however, point out that Hollywood very, very rarely either follows a book or portrays historical event accurately. I watched the 2001 version of The Count of Monte Cristo last night and was sorely disappointed after an excellent opening half an hour. And I remember laughing out loud at the portrayal of the events in Oliver Stones JFK.

Best thing to do is not go and watch Geisha and encourage others to do likewise. Revenue is the only language film studios understand.

Rant over!

10:45 am  
Blogger TalkingCat said...

I did not enjoy the book. I won't be going to see the film.
About the blue eyes, though: it's a long time since I read it but wasn't the geisha in the book supposed to have unusual grey/blue eyes? I could be wrong.

2:50 pm  
Blogger Cruella said...

Yeah it's not unusual to see Hollywood portraying stuff that has nothing to do with reality. yes the book she had blue eyes, which I can only imagine meant she was actually mixed race (and hence possibly in theory why she wasn't expecting to get married and ended up a Geisha). Really though that is probably just additional romantic nonsense added in by people trying to tell their own story through the medium of someone else's culture!

And no, I won't be going. Spread the word...

6:13 pm  
Blogger Richard Gibson said...

Following on from what FBB said, this is a Hollywood movie Kate. It came as a shock to me too when I found out Humphrey and Ingrid weren't actually filmed in Paris, let alone Casablanca...

Point: they don't need to be accurate.

PS, finally found how to do proper links so have reciprocated fully on the link front.

PPS, I've subscribed to your blog via bloglines so intend to be more of a regular visitor.

7:43 pm  
Blogger Cruella said...

True and I do think most Hollywood movies are unutterable toss. This one is particularly offensive though.

6:54 pm  

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