The 2005 film adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Visually the film is vibrant and colorful and the story offers a glimpse into a culture that I find completely fascinating. Just look at these screen shots:
The film is absolutely gorgeous and I could definitely watch this movie once a week (not that I went through a phase where I did just this). What I was pleased to find is that the novel is just as vibrant as the film and offers an even deeper look at a little girl who is sold into an okiya and is destined to become a geisha in order to make a living.
The novel is structured like a classic bildungsroman like Jane Eyre, and follows young Chiyo as she transforms from a fisherman’s daughter to a maid to a well-known and very successful geisha. This transformation is extremely detailed and expertly displays Chiyo’s character development as she struggles with constant change in her life. One of the most clear and symbolic moments of Chiyo’s development is when she finally becomes a geisha and she changes her name to Sayuri and puts on her clean white makeup for the first time. The novel takes place over a vast timeline and shows working as a geisha both before and after World War II, and displays the extreme changes that took place in Japan as a result.
The reader is drawn into the book from the first page. I was completely devoted to Sayuri and felt like I was transported to Japan through the clear and precise descriptions of Kyoto’s geisha district. There are several scenes that can be difficult to get through but are essential to the story. One such scene occurs early in Sayuri’s career when she finds out that she has been entertaining men for the purpose of auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder. There is vulnerability in her character that is very important and which separates her from other geisha in the novel like the cruel Hatsumomo. Sayuri shows that a real geisha is more than a prostitute; she is an artist, an entertainer, an academic and the picture of poise and grace. It is utterly captivating to watch Sayuri struggle to reconcile her heart with her duty when she is caught between two men and her need to survive in prewar Japan.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Japanese culture and history.
Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2005. Print.
Memoirs of a Geisha. Dir. Rob Marshall. Prod. Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick, and Steven Spielberg. By Robin Swicord and Shizuko Hoshi. Perf. Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, and Michelle Yeoh. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2005.