Magazine article The American Conservative

The Girl with the Gray Eyes

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Girl with the Gray Eyes

Article excerpt


[Memoirs of a Geisha]

The Girl With the Gray Eyes

AMERICAN COMMERCE couldn't function without the salesman personality: outgoing, brash, and self-assured. Yet Japanese corporate life carries on nicely despite a shortage of Donald Trumps.

The Japanese were among the first to develop enterprises far larger than the family firm. To induce the comfort level they needed to strike deals with people who weren't relatives, the relatively shy, sensitive, and easily shamed Japanese evolved an elaborate mode of business entertaining lubricated by food, sake, and expert hostesses. At banquets, geisha provided both classy entertainment in the traditional arts and light flirtation, making old moguls feel young and optimistic again.

Although only a rich man could afford a geisha as his mistress, in a society where marriages were mostly arranged and women with children devoted much more attention to their offspring than to their husbands, drinking with geisha offered salarymen a taste of what few wives or common prostitutes were trained to dispense: style, wit, and allure.

Now much reduced in numbers, the old "flower and willow world" of the geisha makes a fascinating but less than wholly appealing subject for American audiences in "Chicago" director Rob Marshall's worthy and sumptuous if not always successful adaptation of American author Arthur Golden's admirable middlebrow bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha. Except for one dance scene that looks like a 1984 Siouxsie and the Banshees MTV video, Marshall lets viewers indulge in a Big Hollywood Movie version of classic Japanese aesthetics.

An impoverished little girl is sold into indentured servitude in the "floating world" of Kyoto's Gion nightlife district in the late 1920s. Born with virtually the only "translucent gray" eyes in Japan, the orphan begins to attract attention, both malignant and benevolent (but still creepy).

The great Gong Li ("Farewell, My Concubine") plays a beautiful and fierce aging geisha, a sort of Wicked Witch of the East, who sees our young heroine as a potential rival to destroy.

Our Cinderella is laboring as a servant when a prince of a fellow known as the Chairman tries to cheer the pretty child up by purchasing her the Japanese equivalent of a snow cone. The smitten youngster resolves to grow up to be a geisha and become the mistress of this middle-aged married man. …

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