‘Geisha’ holds its own on the big screen
There’s something transfixing about watching women in kimonos pour tea and dance with fans. This fascination is likely one of the many reasons why the profession of geisha ever precipitated in Japan.Of course, there’s something very sad about any profession that discourages women from following their hearts. And many things sad about the life of Chiyo, the geisha in “Memoirs of a Geisha,” the Rob Marshall film based on the novel by Arthur Golden.Chiyo is a young girl with striking blue eyes who grows up in a poor fishing village. Unbeknownst to she and her sister, her family sells the two of them to different geisha houses in the district of Gion.
A geisha house – a more sophisticated and cultural version of a brothel – is no place for a little girl who still holds the notion that she can lead a life of her own. The house that Chiyo ends up in is a worse place yet, since the “mother” of the house is an evil version of the smoking caterpillar in “Alice in Wonderland,” and another lady of the house, Hatsumomo, is instantaneously jealous of Chiyo’s beauty and does everything in her power to make the little girl suffer for her own promiscuity, philandering and ungeisha-like behavior.Early on in her life in the geisha house, Chiyo does many things forbidden by her line of work. She tries to find her sister and run away. She doesn’t immediately embrace the necessity of graceful walking, bows and movements or the power of sultry glances. Most disastrous of all, she falls in love. Ironically, falling in love is what drives her to become a successful geisha. Only she forgets that once this happens, she cannot choose her lover as she pleases.She has little to do with her fate. Her name is changed to Sayuri. Her virginity is sold off to the highest bidder. Money and notoriety are key factors in determining her companions. Also, it’s a dog-eat-dog world under the working umbrella. Every geisha for herself, with revenge and envy frequent driving forces.
However accurate Golden or Marshall’s renditions of the geisha lifestyle might be (they are two white American men, after all), the film and story are admittedly fascinating. “Memoirs” was the first novel by Golden, who has a master’s degree in Japanese history from Columbia University. The geisha with whom Golden did extensive interviews for background information filed a lawsuit against him following the book’s publication. She accused him of breaching a confidentiality agreement, which Golden said never existed according to online news sources, which also say that Golden claimed that the life of his fictional character Sayuri is not meant to parallel that of the geisha he interviewed.The film could due with being about 25 minutes shorter, but the setting and score are refreshing, especially in absence of the “Matrix”-style cinematography that has become a bit overused (“Hero,” “House of the Flying Daggers,” “Crouching Tiger…” etc.) in Hollywood flicks that depict various Asian lifestyles and history.The narration in the film doesn’t hold a candle to its counterpart in print, but that’s to be expected in cinematic transfigurations. I recall not being satisfied with the ending in the book. The film’s resolution is a bit more definitive.
In any hit novel-turned-Hollywood blockbuster, there’s always the danger of disfiguring the personalities involved. The characters of Marshall’s film were surprisingly convincing. The film version of the story was certainly no disappointment. Vail, Colorado