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Memoirs of a Geisha Review

Review by Splinteredwalls Continued...

Under the instruction of Memeha (Michelle Yeoh, a Malaysian of Chinese descent), Sayuri practices her trade as she struggles to dodge the manipulative interception of the head geisha living in her okiya, Hatsumomo (Chinese actress Gong Li) who instantly cultivates a strong dislike for Sayuri and is ferociously determined to destroy her future as a geisha.


The film emphasizes traditional Japanese concepts, and then fractures them with American ideals.


“We do not become geisha to pursue our own destinies,” says Memeha when Sayuri is forced to auction off her virginity in a battle between two men whom she does not love.


In America, we are taught from childhood to pursue our own destinies, and that is what Sayuri does, even if it is not traditional of a geisha in the 1930’s and 1940’s setting.


Her love and infatuation for the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), a rich businessman motivates Sayuri and seeps into every action she takes as a geisha. However, the Chairman’s best friend and business partner, Nobu (Koji Yakusho) to whom he owes a great favor, stands between the frustrated pair.  


A viewer looking strictly for entertainment, prepared to recognize the stereotypes of Asian culture portrayed in the film, will discover that producers Lucy Fisher, Doug Wick and Steven Spielberg have transformed the words of Golden’s semi-fictional story into a storm of exotic beauty that flows around a simple but unusual quest for love.


With white powdered faces, strawberry-red lips and sweeping black locks, geisha glide through the streets in flowing silk kimonos entertaining men with their dance skills, seductive femininity and performance during tea ceremonies.


For a very high price, geisha will accept a danna, a wealthy man who pays for their living expenses in return for a relationship that may or may not lead to sexuality, but, as the book and movie emphasize, they are not prostitutes.


In a 1999 interview with CNN, Golden said, “Sex does enter into it. Sex enters into most things. In a sense, geisha can be available as a long-term kept mistress to a wealthy man for a significant sum of money.”


The controversy of Memoirs of a geisha, however, can be drowned out when you discover yourself mesmerized by Sayuri’s striking blue-gray eyes that exemplify the “water” in her personality. 


     Submitted June 24, 2006

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