(Talking movies, differently #6)
So, I spent about a week submerging in the world of Geisha culture in the book, Memoirs of a Geisha and Chiyo’s personal narrative certainly hosted individuality until the last two chapters of the book made the Chairman, ‘the hero’ of her story. While I’m not against fairytales and happy ending romances in fiction, I’m also very easily bummed when a primarily Bildunsgroman genre submits itself to the story of another individual, in this case a kind hearted, gentle, man of position, power and influence- the Chairman. As much as I appreciated Chiyo’s character in the book as a person having hope midst the atrocities of life and making the Chairman and her affections for him the constant of her life, I resented the portrayal of the Chairman as a messiah of her story in a way that the entire narrative of her struggles, hard work, and success as a Geisha was overshadowed by his mercy and kindness. It certainly moved me to tears when the Chairman confessed he had tried to assure Chiyo’s future by asking Mameha to mentor her, but that very moment Chiyo’s insistence on ‘You should have told me earlier!’ presented an absolute disregard for her own self in the helpless pit of the Geisha world.
But the movie (which goes by the same name) gave me something different. It’s the same story but it’s not the same. It was the resolution to Chiyo’s story in the book that let the Chairman decide the rest of her life and obviously how he tried to control parts of her Geisha life by still being one of those men because of whom such a culture existed. But the movie ended with the lines,
‘After all…these are not the memories of an empress, nor of a queen. These are the memoirs of another kind.’
With these lines as the final lines of the screenplay, I had all the space there was to Chiyo’s narrative in the movie to see her, one last time, as Sayuri who is a beautiful dancer, a committed shamisen player, a loyal sister to Mameha, a faithful daughter of the Nitta Okiya, the little Chiyo with dreams and hopes, a woman who loved and held on to her hopes and finally was able to pursue an impossible romance in her journey of being a Geisha.
The movie didn’t give space for Chiyo’s life after leaving the Geisha world, and that indeed made a difference to the story, for obviously the Geisha life had consequences to Chiyo’s rest of the life but not including it in the movie made the story of Chiyo hers and hers alone. I think the movie was able to successfully convince the audience that Hatsumomo was no different from Chiyo. She too loved once and lost it. As Hatsumomo leaves the Okiya in the movie, Sayuri sees herself in her. As Mameha tries to build her life by renting rooms after the war, Sayuri sees herself in her struggles to live a life of no choice. Pumpkin’s betrayal speaks to Sayuri of her own during her childhood. There’s a sense of community, an indispensable hopelessness that strings all these lives in a way where one is essentially the same as the other, yet different. And the movie is able to bring this out as it ends by giving a resolution to all these factors in the life of a Geisha where she has no control over her destiny and it is for the flow to decide where she will be, she can only make the best for what she has.