I’m reading up on the Memoirs of a Geisha controversy, since I’d neither seen the movie nor read the book, and the more I read about it, the more pissed off I get. Basically it went down like this:
Japanese woman tells white American man about her past life as a geisha. White American man then writes a novel that sells itself as an accurate memoir of Japanese woman’s life, but instead falsifies a number of her life events, misrepresents her trade, and exoticises her culture. He also names her as a source even though she specifically asked him to keep her anonymous. Japanese woman gets death threats. White American man becomes bestselling author.
Then Japanese woman gets fed up and writes her own memoir to set the record straight. Meanwhile, white American man’s book gets adapted into a film that grosses $162 million and wins three Oscars.
This is why I can’t stand Memoirs of a Geisha and will side-eye anyone who claims that book as a favourite.
I read Memoirs of a Geisha when I was younger and first started getting interested in the tradition. I enjoyed the book and I knew it was a fabricated story based on his ‘research’ but I didn’t at first realise how badly he had twisted the real truth about Geisha. I went to see the movie when it came out unaware how messed up it was…
When I read about the disgusting things Arther Golden had done betraying Iwasaki and misrepresenting Geisha, I was shocked and ashamed for not realising. I went out and bought Iwasaki’s book. (In the UK it’s called ‘Geisha of Gion’ rather than ‘Geisha, A life’) and I really really enjoyed it. When she wrote about the terrible problems Golden had caused for her I was so angry for her.
Please read her book if you want to read a real story about Geisha.