Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha (Novel-1997 and Movie-2005)

(Given to me by my VT sister, Jo Iwatani) 

There have been novels that have been outdone by the screenplay, but this is not one of them.  Even if I like the movie, I still prefer this one over the screenplay because there were certain important elements that were not included in the movie.  I know for a fact that it's close to impossible to include everything in the screenplay, unless it's going to be a mini-series or something, but elements that make the story special should never be deleted or changed.  

As a reader, I would choose Nobu over the Chairman, but as a member of the cinema/theater audience, I would definitely choose the Chairman because he was portrayed by Ken Watanabe, and not because of his character or anything.  Nobu loves/loved Sayuri and the Chairman only made Sayuri his kept woman until his final breath. 

I couldn't help but compare it to Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, Gigi and Pretty Woman. Gigi got married to Gaston and Vivian was made an honorable woman by Edward. Eliza probably never married Mr. Higgins, but it was so open-ended that we could jump to our own conclusion.  Sayuri's plight and a lot else were different.  Even if Sayuri got the man she cherished in the end, she was just forever his mistress and nothing more.  Gigi was luckier because Gaston decided to marry her and probably, Vivian married Edward and with wilder imagination, maybe the Professor did tie the knot with Ms. Doolittle.   I know, I know.  Eliza is neither a courtesan (Gigi was a courtesan in training) nor a prostitute(like Vivian), but... Yes, she's not a Geisha like Sayuri.  She was a diamond in the rough, but the way the Professor sort of treated her before he got accustomed to her face was very demeaning.  Even if he transformed her to be an elegant woman, in his eyes, she was always the Cockney Flower Girl who had no poise, no class. All three couples, by the way, have big age gaps, just like Sayuri and the Chairman. 

It is important to note that a Geisha is NOT a prostitute, according to the Japanese culture. Geisha (芸者), geiko (芸子) or geigi (芸妓) are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance and games, whereas the Korean Gisaeng is both: Kisaeng (also spelled gisaeng), sometimes called ginyeo (기녀), were officially sanctioned Korean female entertainers or sometimes prostitutes. Kisaeng are artists who work to entertain others, such as the yangbans and kings.

The Geisha is not required to have sex with her customers, except when her virginity is sold and claimed by the highest bidder(Mizuage).

There is no doubt that coerced sex and bidding on a new geisha's virginity occurred in the period before WWII... After Japan lost the war, geisha dispersed and the profession was in shambles. When they regrouped during the Occupation and began to flourish in the 1960s during Japan's postwar economic boom, the geisha world changed. In modern Japan, girls are not sold into indentured service, nor are they coerced into sexual relations. Nowadays, a geisha's sex life is her private affair. —Liza Dalby, Do They or Don't They?

The scene after the Baron decided to do more than peeking and eventually leading her to shame(Hatsumomo took advantage of the situation) gave me nightmares more than the inevitable fulfillment of the winner of the mizuage even if Mr. Itchoda, Mameha's dresser, assured her That's fine, then...  (The scene in the movie after the event is different.)


I still don't find Sayuri's first encounter with the eel funny.  I don't get her sense of humor.  Oh well.  


The scenery and the costumes were grandiose and the acting was great, but the story lacked a lot of the important elements depicted in the novel.  Another thing, three Chinese women played big roles here, instead of Japanese actors.  Michelle Yeoh, a Malaysian of Chinese descent plus Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi who are both Chinese.

I guess it was because this was a big Hollywood production (Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment) that the bigwigs got to choose who got to play who.  For them, an Asian is an Asian.  They did not note the differences of slants of the Japanese and the Chinese eyes(Well, that is what I think, I do not know if that is the real reason behind it.).

None of those trivialities matter because Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi played their parts well.

Ken Watanabe was my crush during the time I watched this first and I must say, like what I mentioned before, if he did not play the role of the chairman, I would wish that Sayuri would end up with the very pained Nobu.

I was even very happy when they ended up together and even shed a tear or two, but when I analyzed it(I hate it very much to over-analyze, but I still do), I realized that the movie version and novel did not really have happy endings.

There's also the question of what really happened to her dear sister, Satsu.  Poor Satsu.  All we know is that she became a prostitute.  


I just want to say that people should be careful what they wish for. Chiyo, later as Sayuri, got to fulfill her childhood dream.  When she started to have a crush on the chairman when she was a little girl, she greatly admired his Geisha companions that she wanted to be a Geisha herself.  

No matter what they say, like it's an honorable job or something...wait, I won't go there.  I might be stepping on someone else's toes.

Directed byRob Marshall
Produced byLucy Fisher
Douglas Wick
Steven Spielberg
Written byRobin Swicord
Based onMemoirs of a Geisha
by Arthur Golden
StarringZhang Ziyi as Chiyo Sakamoto/Sayuri Nitta
Ken Watanabe as Chairman Ken Iwamura
Gong Li as Hatsumomo
Michelle Yeoh as Mameha
Suzuka Ohgo as Young Chiyo Sakamoto
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyDion Beebe
Edited byPietro Scalia
DreamWorks Pictures
Spyglass Entertainment
Amblin Entertainment
Douglas Wick/Lucy Fisher
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Buena Vista International(United Kingdom)
Release date(s)
  • November 29, 2005(Tokyo premiere)
  • December 9, 2005(United States)

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