Memoirs of a Geisha - a movie

Last night I went with my wife and friends to see Memoirs of a Geisha, or "Sayuri" in Japan. Before I saw it I had read several reviews, all having very qualified statements. I can conclude that anyone who has read anything about this movie should see it before they comment.

I have heard two strains of criticisms about this movie. First, many are upset that the leading female roles are played by Ziyi Zyang, Michelle Yeoh, and Li Gong - Chinese, Malaysian, and Chinese respectively. Second, I have heard various criticisms of the accuracy of the dress, or other aspects of the Geisha world.

Immediately, this made me think of another historically based fiction movie: Cold Mountain. Based on the book of the same name, this movie tells the story of a civil war soldier who returns to his hometown to find his love. The lead characters in this movie were Jude Law (an Englishman), Nicole Kidman (an Australian), was filmed in Romania, and included dozens of Romanian soldiers instead of American Civil War Reenactors (as was done in most recent Civil War based productions in the US such as Gettysburg or Gods and Generals). Just like Memoirs of a Geisha (a.k.a. Sayuri) it brought protests, but is entertaining none-the-less.

Just as you don't watch Saving Private Ryan or Pearl Harbor as a substitute for studying World War Two, you shouldn't rely on Sayuri to learn about Japanese culture. Yes, there were mistakes - just as I found the dance in the middle of the movie to be very Chinese. I do think though that this movie very well may set the record straight that Geisha are not prostitutes, as I had thought before I came to Japan and learned more about the culture myself.

What is important to remember that both Sayuri and Cold Mountain are movies based on works of fiction, giving us a double dose of poetic license. Both have strong stories and beautiful scenery, and cannot substitute as a cultural or historical documentary. It is a movie. Moreover, it is an entertaining movie I think is worth seeing, only if you don't take yourself too seriously and remember that it is just that - a movie.

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