Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Memoirs of a Geisha

HELLO, last year I helped Sam write an essay on the male gaze, I had some opinionz on the film 'memoirs of a geisha' so he put them in, here's an extract from the essay:

‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ is a contemporary film set in a pre-feminist era and culture. The viewer is meant to identify with the female protagonist Sayuri when she is sold to a Geisha house to be a slave, however while this custom is seemingly treated as archaic and cruel, when Sayuri becomes a geisha all associated customs are treated with reverence and glamorised in a typical Hollywood style. This film, which is marketed at women (Marketing for the film included a promotional advert for Maxx-factor mascara, which heavily featured clips from the film borrowing from and enhancing its glamour) attempts to find a compromise for a post-feminist western audience, exoticising prostitution to the point of de-familiarisation. Prostitution is referred to as a western aberration. When Sayuri's training begins, the matriarchal figure Mameha says ‘[we] are not prostitutes’, and towards the end of the film when a fellow geisha, Pumpkin is ‘americanised’ by US troops and becomes a ‘common’ prostitute with none of the traditional paraphernalia of the Geisha and she subsequently betrays Sayuri, juxtaposing the nostalgic and exotic ideal of sanitised Japanese ‘geisha’ with the conventional western untrustworthy ‘hooker’.
The male characters in the film are presented as harmless, despite the sexual-repression inherent in their society. It is these four men who control the film's narrative, as Sayuri's actions are all centred around them as they compete to be her domo (to take her virginity and to have exclusive control over her sexuality). They can be broken into 2 pairs. The older men, Dr. Crab and the Baron, compete in a bidding war for Sayuri's virginity, whilst the two younger men (though the youngest, The Chairman is still twenty years her senior) are honour bound not to bid on her, but as they are stronger and younger the audience is intended to want Sayuri to be with one of them (despite the fact they already have wives). The Baron can been seen to represent the Male Gaze as he acts on the desire implicit in the gaze, attempting to forcibly undress Sayuri taking away some of her innocence, for which he is punished as the old man Dr.Crab is allowed to win the bidding war.
If anaylsed with the psychoanalytical methods of Mulvey’s essay, The Baron is undressing of Sayuri to demystify her and deny the threat of castration that she presents through her lack of a penis. In comparison to the violence of the Baron Dr.Crab’s use of his privilege over Sayuri to force her into sex is appears to be excused in the morality of the film. In the tiny prelude to the sexual act that we are permitted to witness between Sayuri and Dr. Crab he is pathetic; the detached camera angle re-enforces his impotence and the narrative quickly moves past the act. Within the morality of Hollywood cinema, if one of the younger men had been the one to take her virginity it would not be so easy to forgive them, as they are presented as strong charismatic figures to be admired by the audience, the Ideal Egos to which Sayuri is drawn.
Ultimately it is the Chairman who Sayuri is meant to be with, in a classical romantic sense, as she declares her affection towards him throughout the film and eventually the narrative brings them together. At the moment of resolution it is revealed that Sayuri 's actions, not just through the seen narrative but in the exposition, have been controlled by the Chairman who is revealed to have always know her identity, and made sure that she would become a geisha and protected her in the style of a guardian or god-like figure.

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