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.