Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Apr 22, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha

This is a very good movie indeed, conveying the essence of what might be a very foreign culture in a very understandable manner. The music and cinematography are beautiful, the characterization is almost frightfully clear, and the plot is suspenseful. Unfortunately, and this is the only “bad” thing about the movie, is that it’s the wrong plot.

The basic storyline is Cinderella, but you might not realize it right away. In fact, you may not realize it at all until the end. My mother was never fond of that story, and watching this movie makes me realize why. It doesn’t make any sense. So Cinderella is “good”, in the sense of being well-behaved. She doesn’t do anything to actually bring about an improvement in her own situation. It’s showered upon her from above.

In Memoirs, the main character is a bit more active in her own life, fighting against the constraints laid upon her, refusing to understand why she can’t have what she wants. Bravo. The problem is, it still doesn’t make any sense. Her actions really should have alienated the man she loved, but, Pretty Woman-style, there’s still a happy ending tacked on. Why? Because he’s a sucker for a pretty face, apparently.

In addition to being really unsatisfying rationally, the tacked-on ending is extremely non-Japanese. In real Oriental storytelling, romance is a tragedy, because it inevitably brings the romantic characters into conflict with their duty. Such a conflict cannot end in anything other than tragedy and death. It’s not a wonderful philosophy, but it is completely logical and self-consistent. Duty-based ethics by its nature precludes earthly happiness (and life itself, for that matter), and you don’t get any more earthly than romance.

So, as I said, it was a great movie up until the last 10 minutes or so. I’m curious now whether the book also has this peculiar flaw, or if it’s just a Hollywood thing.

1 comment:

Janefield said...

Do read the book if you can. Its story telling narrative is simply beautiful and completely draws you into it. The story by itself, is nothing out of the box. But the attention to detail and the description given of old world Japanese culture in the last century is beautifully emphasised. This book captivated me so much I dedicated an entire blogpost to it!