Imagine a film opens with a shot of immensely vast blue eyes. The shot slowly expands to show a nose and red blushed cheeks. The shot continuously expands to show lips drowned by red lipstick, a slender neck, the cleavage of breast, flat stomach, and eventually slender long legs. This opening could very well be used in many films for the reason that it invites the viewer to see the woman as parts of a whole object. This camera expansion, in different variations, has been used in multiple films to capture a female character as an object of sexuality, to differentiate her from the male counterpart.
The fact of the matter is women within the space of film are more often than not demonstrated as a form of objectification, a viewing pleasure, and an arena opposite of male. American film has often presented beauty not in the eyes of the beholder, but in the eyes of the white male; hence, popular beauty was white, blonde, and blue-eyed. However, through capitalization the American economy has shifted to globalizing their capitalistic efforts. This globalization has also shifted the established beauty to a worldlier one.
American film shifted the idea of beauty to vaster ethnicity, yet objectification of females has not shifted. The American film Memoirs of a Geisha reveals the objectification of ethnic women and demonstrates the transformation of beauty within film. The objectification of women happens in many forms throughout the film Memoirs of a Geisha. The most blunt and obvious objectification is that Sayuri and other female characters are prostitute(s), an article(s) for sale. The main character is treated as a virgin and will be sold to the highest bidder at a silent auction.
This clear objectification is unparalleled. The film however portrays prostitution as the normal and not being a Geisha is against the norm. This sets up the female as doing something respectful and what is called of her as a woman. A male viewer “almost always feels his sexual activity hampered by the respect for the woman” (Campbell 24). The fact that the film sets up Geisha as normal, which fights societies views, paints into existence the female as fighting normal objectification that in a sense is still objectifying her.
This fighting of realities norm and the films norm will create a difficult struggle for the viewer to be able to see the character as anything but a foreign object. “The West objectifies the Orient, which is to be viewed, photographed, studied, and consumed” (Akita). The film has taken the 21st century, which has been referred to as the Asian Century, and objectified it by studying, viewing, and visualizing it as an object rather than reality. Though the film sets up a Geisha to be normal, society will see a Geisha as prostitute and not an art form. This loudly calls to phallocentrism.
The Geisha is always an object of the males’ penis. The film failed to present Geisha as an art form, and truly captured Geisha as an object for the male desire or penis. Memoirs of a Geisha was a longer and more ethnic film than the 1996 movie Striptease staring Demi Moore. “Golden treated Japanese culture and geisha as an object to sexualized, exoticized, and romanticized” (Akita). Filmmakers and writers in America know that sex sells, and sells big. This exotic beauty, the geisha, being introduced to a globalizing economy was a natural capitalistic venture that would have high returns.
The film first sets up the main character as a low class child from a fishing village. The lower class aspect provokes certain sympathy towards her and opens up the thought process of seeing her beneath the average. This sets the focus to be not on her, but on her vulnerability, her delicacy, “rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance” (Mulvey/Boetticher 750). Later on the male character is revealed as a hero inspired by the fear she experienced.
Furthermore, the female is objectified through romanticizing her relationships. Though Geisha is a great respected art form, the film presents it as a one of cultural deviance. A sort of frowned upon way of life. This sets up the female character to rebuild herself to a respectful person, but respectful in the male heroes eyes. “If in the fallen woman narrative the virtuous female loses her innocence, the love story aims to reverse the process, redeeming the heroine so she is a fit partner for the man who cherishes her.
” (Campbell 319) The film does not objectify women through sympathetic and romantic attempts only. Women are objectified through conflicts between female characters. The conflicts were such that the normal viewer may see it as natural drama, however it is there to purposefully objectify the women so they may be judged as geisha and not as people. The first conflict is between Hatsumomo and Sayuri. The conflict is evidently aroused because Hatsumomo is threatened by Sayuri’s beauty even though she is low class. This conflict objectifies the women to such things of beauty, much like a piece of art.
The film failed to capture geisha as a form of art, and captured geisha females as pieces of art; much like a painting or sculpture. This brings me to the point of setting the female as a viewing pleasure or an object. Film offers a large number of possible viewing pleasures. In Memoirs of a Geisha viewing pleasures is the largest aspect of the film. The first aspect of viewing pleasure the film creates is scopophilia. “There are circumstances in which looking itself is a source pleasure, just as, in the revers formation, there is pleasure in being looked at” (Mulvey 748).
The scophilia in the film is both literal and imaginative. The literal are scenes in which the viewer sees the act of sex happening, even when it is wrong. The act of seeing the woman being sexual goes back to the fact that she is a geisha, and the film has set the geisha up as an object of high quality and price. When I talk about the act of sex even when its wrong, I am referring to Hatsumomo’s scene with her true lover. This scene attempts to reveal a softer side to Hatsumomo than the one we see. The true power of the scene though is in the sexuality and desire.
A natural human flaw is one wants what one cannot have. The scene with Hatsumomo and her lover performing the act of sex in the shack gives to the notion of wanting something one cannot have. “Women displayed as sexual object is the leit-motiff of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups, to strip-tease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire” (Mulvey 750). The shack sex was also a little tease to the erotogenic zones, further objectifying the women. Additionally the attractiveness of the actress played a role in the selling of the film and of the story.
“Viewing clips featuring a female protagonist who was both aggressive and stereotypically attractive led to greater endorsement of stereotypically feminine and stereotypically masculine gender role expectations for women” (Taylor and Setters). This film deeply exoticizes the actress and shifts the stereotype of a white blonde woman to the mystic Asian. The film shifts the beauty but not the objectification of her. Beyond the physical viewing of pleasure and its parts, there was the viewing of beauty.
“The cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking, but it also goes further, developing scopophilia in its narcissistic aspect. The conventions of mainstream film focus attention the human form” (Mulvey 749). The film sets up the main female character as a village girl who can never attain the grace and beauty of a geisha. This preliminary set up is so the viewer may see her beauty as that much more grand when she reaches that point. She had to be refined, like a car must go to a body shop, and come out a thing of sparkling beauty.
The scene in which she tests her beauty is a perfect example of the loud push of objectifying the human form. The scene I am referring to is the one in which she test her gaze to stop a man. Another form of objectification throughout the film was the desire for a geisha to please males. The film failed to objectify the geisha as a rare delicacy, but turned the geisha into the rich man’s prostitute. “The problem for women thus is not simply that they are different from men whether biologically or in some other way.
The for women- and what limits their chances for equality- is that they tare different from in a men in a world that disguises what are really just male standards or norms as gender principles” (Bem 49). The film sets it up in such a way that the female geisha is an object because she functions within the principles and practices of a male oriented society. The definition of a geisha is a Japanese hostess trained to entertain men with conversation, song, and dance. This interpretation and reality has changed with the fact that the female is functioning within a male arena.
Mameha is an example of what the film set up as a female trying to function in a male role, and away from her natural objective one. Mameha, after the war has becomes less hostile, owns and rents rooms for a living. Mameha says to Sayuri that she has come to terms with her past and is doing okay. Her tone is of wishing that she were not in this situation, wishing she were in her normal role as a geisha. Implying that running a business is for a man and the job of serving the man is for me, female. “Business woman films show prostitution as an integral part of the capital economic system
and, to some degree, a symbol of it” (Campbell 207). This was blow to the irony of her being a legitimate businesswoman and not a prostitute. In one of the last scenes, Sayuri is with her hero, her love and even though she has become an object of disgrace he is presented as compassionate. The film naturally sets up the male to be the savior of the delicate and the broken. Sayuri even says to her hero, “Can’t you see, every step I have taken, since I was that child on the bridge was to bring my self closer to you.
” Her life of going through trials and tribulations was dedicated to a male figure, a superior, a desire or motivation to please him. And further more on the opposite side, “He looks after her when apprehended by the law, and either uses some political influence in her behalf, or sees after her fine or bail. In many cases, he is the lover or ‘sweetheart,’ and by some power so attaches his girl to himself that she will never betray him no matter if he has beaten and abused her” (Campbell 342). This is more than relevant in the film when the hero uses his influence multiple times to influence the future of her life.
When revealed the truth of his secret influence on her life she is not angry, yet humbled and thankful for his care and support because his reasons were valid. Memoirs of a Geisha was a film that attempted to produce an artistic classic. Though the film excelled in capturing the scenes of Japan at the time through setting and costume, it utterly failed to capture a geisha as an art form. It did nothing more than what Striptease did but with more eloquent settings. The film objectified the female geisha to present her has a viewing pleasure and an object of the male.
The physical and strategically placed imaginative pleasures of viewing the geisha were a well-hidden way of objectifying the woman. In no part of the film was the characters’ beauty not a factor. The film captured the shift of the American economy by globalizing the beauty of an object and implanting this object on the American male. The scene in which an American General escorts Sayuri plants the idea that this particular American is wrong in his doing, but he is still presented as hero and soldier. Which over takes his wrongdoing and focuses the attention back on her as a classy prostitute.
Furthermore, the idea of the geisha and the actual character, Sayuri, are presented as women within a male dominant world. The geisha is there to be escorted by men and have been in history. To sing, dance, and conversation to please the male figure that is paying for their company. Yet, the female character goes beyond her role as a geisha to be an object at the will and mercy of her male counterpart. This film does not capture the art form that is the geisha, but eloquently, and not so eloquently, captures the objectifying of women in a global sense.
This film was classic in where the woman fights constant objectification while objectification is apart of her life in the film. For example, in Silence of the Lambs Clarisse is fighting objectification from every male she encounters and Buffalo Bill is literally objectifying women. The art of setting women in a space of being judged as objects is apart of the cinema today. The film is a museum exhibition to view the new clever ways of further objectifying women. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Asian Century was what Professor Homes referred to the century as in Asian Economics.
[ 2 ]. Skretting, Kathrine. Laura Mulvey: Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. [Bergen]: [Norsk Medieforskerlag], 1997. Print. [ 3 ]. Golden is referring to Arthur Golden, author of the book Memoirs of a Geisha. He is also credited for the film. [ 4 ]. Worldwide Memoirs of a Geisha (the film) grossed $157,749,686. The film grossed $57 million in the United States. [ 5 ]. sexual pleasure derived chiefly from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity; voyeurism. Skretting, Kathrine. Laura Mulvey: Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. [Bergen]: [Norsk Medieforskerlag], 1997. Print.