Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Memoirs of a Geisha


It’s a good story, though melodramatic. It is totally gorgeous to look at … though it is often a cold beauty, like Geishas themselves.

There’s this endless and heated debate as to the nature of a geisha. Some say she’s a prostitute, pure and simple. Maybe so. The only thing I’m sure of is, she’s not anything like a prostitute as we know it in the West. It’s not even very much like a high class call girl. Prostitutes in the west need know nothing except the techniques of sex, while geisha are not trained in sexual intercourse, per se, at all. They study just about everything else, all to contribute to their allure. And yet, it is clear from this movie that it is slavery.

What is prostitution, anyway? Having sex for money? Does that mean that performers in porno movies, male and female, are prostitutes? I don’t think people in the West will ever understand the idea of the geisha, not really. Japanese are frequently more fascinated with ritual than with the thing itself. Watch a sumo match. 99% of it is posturing, bowing, stomping, strewing salt, bowing. The actual fight takes ten seconds, if that.

You can make so many arguments on both sides of the question, and still feel you haven’t really grasped it because you haven’t been raised in the culture. Yes, in the end it is demeaning … and yet at that time and place it was maybe the only way other than marrying a rich man for a woman to better herself. Surely, in the West, we’ve limited women’s options that badly or worse. To this day, women are treated worse than cattle in many Muslim societies. And yet again … the purpose of the whole rigmarole seems to be to boost the ego of the man, tell him how important he is, flatter him. Is it any different, in the end, from “Oooh, G.I! You so big!” Well, at least the clothes are better.

Some people were offended that Chinese actresses played Japanese women. I wondered about it myself. Then I came across this very interesting comment from the Korean-Canadian actress Sandra Oh:

Ralph Fiennes can play an English person, a German person, a Polish person, a Jewish person. He can play anything, and no one questions him. He is a handsome, Caucasian-looking-ish man. So, to American audiences, Europe looks like that. Europe does not look like that. But that is the image we have been fed for 60 years, so we accept that. But what I have big problems with is when people put those limits on me. I just think, “Give me a f@#%ing break. You have no idea what I am.” Because when you meet someone, you never say, “I met Joe Schmoe, and he’s Irish-French.” But there always has to be a quantifier or qualifier when it comes to me.

Bravo! Well-said!