Thursday, November 24, 2011

Memoirs of a Geisha

A story like mine should never be told. For my world is as forbidden as it is fragile. Without its mysteries it cannot survive. I certainly wasn't born to the life of a geisha. Like so much in my strange life, I was carried there by the current.
Memoirs of a Geisha, released in 2005 and directed by Rob Marshall, has an outstanding cast of beautiful women: Li Gong, Michelle Yeoh, and discovery (for me) ZiyiZhang. It is inspired from the acclaimed book of the same name by ArthurGolden, published in 1997. It relates the story of little girl Chiyo (SuzukaOhgo) in the 1930s. She is sold to a geisha house and the movie is about her rise to becoming the most celebrated geisha in Japan. Tortured by beautiful established geisha Matsumomo (Li Gong), she meets the Chairman when she is a little girl, and makes it her life mission to see him again. She realizes her dream when Mameha, a geisha from a rival house, takes her under her wing.

So, I have not read the book, so I cannot really say if it is a good adaptation of the book. I found it beautiful, but mostly because of the sceneries of Japan, the beautiful outfits, the poignant story, the platonic love. I am still puzzled as to what a geisha is, I think the concept is blurry: prostitute, escort girl, or, as the movie describes, “art”?

Wikipedia mentions that:
It was traditional in the past for established geisha to take a danna, or patron. A danna was typically a wealthy man, sometimes married, who had the means to support the very large expenses related to a geisha's traditional training and other costs. This sometimes occurs today as well, but very rarely. A geisha and her danna may or may not be in love, but intimacy is never viewed as a reward for the danna's financial support. While it is true that a geisha is free to pursue personal relationships with men she meets through her work, such relationships are carefully chosen and unlikely to be casual. A hanamachi tends to be a very tight-knit community and a geisha's good reputation is not taken lightly.
Mameha: Your cave is untouched. Men like that. We call this "mizuage". And to become a full geisha, you must sell it to the highest bidder.

Chairman: We must not expect happiness, Sayuri. It is not something we deserve. When life goes well, it is a sudden gift; it cannot last forever...

Mameha: Remember, Chiyo, geisha are not courtesans. And we are not wives. We sell our skills, not our bodies. We create another secret world, a place only of beauty. The very word "geisha" means artist and to be a geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art

Mameha:  You cannot call yourself a truse geisha until you can stop a man in his tracks with a single look.
Colonel: [stops Sayuri as she is exiting the hot spring] So, what is the protocol?
Sayuri: Excuse me?
Colonel: Suppose I wanted to see you in private.
Sayuri: I beg your pardon, colonel, but that is not a geisha's custom.
Colonel: [rubs Sayuri's shoulder] Don't be coy. I mean, if it's a matter of price, I'm sure...
Sayuri: If there were a price, you could never afford it.
Sayur: The heart dies a slow death. Shedding each hope like leaves, until one day there are none. No hopes. Nothing remains.
Li Gong and Michelle Yeoh, in their respective role, are simply magnificent, and Ziyi Zhang was a true discovery for me.
All in all, I am not sure this is an accurate description of the Japanese culture, I am not sure this is a proper reflection of the book, but I’ll say this: Yes, I still do not know / understand what a geisha is exactly, but I enjoyed the story for what it was, without judgment on accuracy, without looking at the historical or cultural context. I had a good time and, after all, that’s what movies are for, right?

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