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Non-fiction Film “Geisha”, Reaction Paper Example

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Joanna Bailey’s 2000, non-fiction film, “Geisha” traces the seminal institution of the geisha in Japan by portraying the quotidian lives of Geisha women and Maiko, or the geishas in training.  She examines their costumes, cosmetics, living arrangements, and performance in both music and dance that they engaged in quite frequently. Through interviews with practicing geishas, Maikos, and clients, Bailey constructs a narrative that brings to screen the lived experiences of some of the most fascinating women in the history of Japan. This representation of geishas and Maiko eschew popular representations of the geisha figure evident Hollywood films such as the 2005 Memoirs of a Geisha. By interviewing the Geisha and Maiko, Bailey grants these women—whose voices are often muted in the grand narrative because of their correlation with the western conception of a strumpet—a sense of agency in discursively constructing their own identity through their own self-representation. Hollywood portrayals of the geisha have emerged as cultural texts in which the romanticized image of a Japanese rural girl fused with the western preconception of a geisha as an oriental Other, thereby perpetuating stereotypes about Asian women and Asian cultures so prevalent in western discourses. Through oral histories constructed from the words of the geisha and Maiko themselves, Bailey cogently constructs a counter-narrative in which their lived experiences stood alone in order to elucidate what life was like as cultural icons in Japan that eschewed all western stereotypes.

In addition, Bailey analyzed the sartorial patterns and cosmetic use of the geishas and Maiko, which impacted their representation. Indeed, clothing and accessories are signifiers of one’s class and gender affiliation, as they function as identity markers that the public can see and assess. The geisha and Maiko were considered members of high society regardless of what social echelon they came from, so donning the elaborate clothing, accessories, and cosmetics enhanced their image as well-to-do ladies desired by courtly men. Moreover, they were visual cues of traditional Japanese beauty and femininity.  As such, their sartorial styles, embellished make-up, and accessories wore all enhanced an image of their courtly status as elegant, dainty, beautiful Japanese women who adhered to tradition.

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