Past Features

Turning Off The TV #21: Memoirs of a Geisha


Welcome to my fortnightly Thursday feature, Turning off the TV! In this feature I recommend books similar to TV shows or films you may have enjoyed, both series and specific episodes. This was a weekly feature, but will now be fortnightly, on alternate weeks with Fantasy Friday.

The film this week is: Memoirs of a Geisha.

Memoirs of a Geisha

In 1929 an impoverished nine-year-old named Chiyo from a fishing village is sold to a geisha house in Kyoto’s Gion district and subjected to cruel treatment from the owners and the head geisha Hatsumomo. Her stunning beauty attracts the vindictive jealousy of Hatsumomo, until she is rescued by and taken under the wing of Hatsumomo’s bitter rival, Mameha. Under Mameha’s mentorship, Chiyo becomes the geisha named Sayuri, trained in all the artistic and social skills a geisha must master in order to survive in her society. As a renowned geisha she enters a society of wealth, privilege, and political intrigue. As World War II looms Japan and the geisha’s world are forever changed by the onslaught of history. (from IMDB)

Yes, it’s another one that was originally a book (by Arthur Golden) – but it’s hard to avoid films that aren’t adaptations these days! Plus I really enjoyed this film (and the source material). The cinematography is just gorgeous, allowing the viewer to see all these beautiful shots of 1930s Kyoto, Japanese costume, culture and traditions. Plus you can’t beat that wonderful soundtrack composed by John Williams.

If you want to read more about geisha…

Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda Geisha by Liza Dalby

Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki and Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda are both biographies of genuine geishas. The first tells the tale of a city geisha, the latter of a ‘hot springs’ geisha. Both accounts are brutally honest and strip away the shiny exterior and rub off all the beautifully applied makeup. Geisha by Liza Dalby is the account of the only non-Japanese geisha, presenting the life from a different viewpoint to the first two books.

If you want to read more about Japan…

Shogun by James Clavell The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata

Shogun by James Clavell is a HUGE sprawling epic story of the shogunate of Japan, and the rise of Westerner Pilot-Major John Blackthorne from a disdained foreigner to a samurai. I started reading it a couple of years ago on an excavation, but only got halfway through (there wasn’t too much time for reading) and still have to finish it. It’s definitely one you have to put everything else aside for, but from what I’ve already read, definitely worth it. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is often called the world’s first modern novel, and was written by a noblewoman in eleventh century Japan. It follows the life of Genji, the son of an ancient Japanese emperor, although it ends very abruptly and it is still not agreed whether this was intentional. A more modern Japanese classic, Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata was first published in 1961 and follows a man who reunites with a lover of years ago, and how their different relationships can affect others.

Are you a fan of Memoirs of a Geisha? Do you have any recommendations to add? Are there any other TV shows or films you’d like me to cover?