Sunday, February 1, 2015

Inspiration: Memoirs of a Geisha, plus the Winter Lemmings Board

I read Memoirs of a Geisha when it first came out (against my mother's wishes, since I was young-ish at the time and the novel contains a bit of sexin') and truly enjoyed it. In fact, I still enjoy it, and I've re-read the novel about a dozen times. It's beautifully written and is one of the only modern novels to feature geisha living in their own world, and I appreciate that.

But even in my youthful years, I knew that the novel was not an entirely accurate depiction of the geisha lifestyle: I'd already purchased Liz Dalby's seminal book Geisha with my birthday money. I didn't get too upset about it, because I knew this was fiction, and I knew that, if somebody's interest in the "Flower and Willow World" was sparked by the novel, they'd probably seek out more information and go on their own journey of discovery. I'm an English teacher; I'm big on "journeys of discovery."

I was a bit wary, though, about the film adaptation. Books tend to inspire people to read other books. I haven't really noticed the same thing happening with films; rather, I see the opposite--viewers see it in a film and take it at face value. Still, I looked forward to the adaptation and the beauty it would bring to the silver screen.

Then this happened:

Bottom images from Flickr, John Paul Foster, and John Paul Foster.

Look at the makeup in the top 3 images, which is from the film Memoirs of a Geisha. Then compare it to the makeup in the bottom 3 images, which are pictures of actual, modern-day maiko (apprentices) and geisha. Notice anything?

The makeup they used for the film is so hideous, it pains me. They were supposedly trying to make the film more "modern" (and possibly more palatable for a western audience, which irritates me on principle). What they actually did was make these beautiful women look like goddamn idiots. They painted their faces white, but it's a sheer white, and it makes them look sickly. Real geisha do not fill their entire lips in with lipstick and instead draw on a smaller, rounder shape, because filling in your entire lip when your face is stark white looks...well, look at Zhang Ziyi's face in the very first image. And as you can see in the images of actual geisha, there's much more red going on around the brows and eyes, all designed to draw attention to your features. They didn't do that in the film. Instead, they tried to make it "modern," which makes zero sense when your story is set in the 1930s.

A lot of my friends rolled their eyes when I complained about the makeup in the film until they saw pictures of actual geisha. "Well, the real stuff looks so much more beautiful and flattering," they admitted.

 Vintage image of geisha sleeping on raised pillows to protect their coiffures.

They also agreed with me that some of the other "we're gonna ignore this aspect of geisha culture that's clearly mentioned in the novel" moments are weird even if you know zilch about geisha culture. My favorite example: the hair. They supposedly gave each character in Memoirs of a Geisha a different sort of hair style to emphasize their personality. Alright, that's an understandable dseign choice. But...the film also shows our heroine, Sayuri, in immense pain as wax and hot oil are brushed through her hair. Then they show her learning how to sleep on the raised pillow geisha would use to prevent their hair from getting messed up. Despite showing all of this, we regularly see every geisha character in the film with her hair up, then down, then up, then down, as if she were traipsing off to the hair dresser every night.

"I don't get it," my one friend asked. "Why are they waxing her hair in to place and making her sleep on that weird pillow if she's just gonna wash it every morning?"

"Am I supposed to believe that they're going to this hair dresser every freaking day?" another friend asked. "Because it looks like they have a lot of other shit to do."

Yeeeeeah. I had no logical explanation for those questions, and the filmmakers don't, either.

Now that I've ranted and complained about the authenticity that I knew wasn't going to be there in the first place, let me clarify that I am not inspired by the faux geisha makeup in the film. I'm actually inspired by the "everyday," out of geisha makeup they applied to the characters. It's flawless, but never heavy. Impressive, given some of the intensely-pigmented products that were used!

Our three lead actresses: Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi. The normally so-gorgeous-it-hurts Gong Li looks drawn and terrible with that sheer white makeup on her face, but the natural makeup we see here on the other two women is, again, goooorgeous. I love the subtle eyeliner on Michelle Yeoh.

More of the beautiful skin emphasized throughout the film. I also enjoyed Yuki Kudo's World War II era makeup. I get that it was supposed to make her look "overdone" compared to the other women, but I think it's really flattering on her, especially the smoky gray eyes.

Ah, there's a better image of Gong Li! What an unfair human being. Interestingly, they used a more neutral palette on her, while Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh had rosier colors blended in to their lips and cheeks. The skin is always glowing and healthy looking.

To finish off this post, here's my winter Lemmings Board! I originally intended to do these monthly, buuuuuut they're turning out seasonal. My bad. :(

1. Tony Moly Peach Anti-Aging Hand Cream, $6.50 on eBay -- East Asian beauty products sometimes get a bad wrap for being pretty to look at, but poorly made. I have to disagree with this assessment; the Asian beauty industry has its duds like any other, but there are some real gems hiding in that cute packaging. Take the Tony Moly hand creams. I've tried and enjoyed the orange one; now my interest is peaked by this peach version, which contains SPF30. Always apply sun protection to your hands, kids!

2. Hourglass Opaque Rouge Liquid Lipstick in Raven, $28 at Sephora -- Yes, I'm still going on about these things, and yes, I'm still lusting after Raven! This is the last shade in the current line-up that I really, reeeeally want, because hello! Warm red! I think it'll be the product I wanted ColourPop Frenchie to be.

3. RMS Beauty Uncover Up in 00, $36 at RMS Beauty -- Advertised as both a concealer and a foundation, based on your aesthetic, I'm thinking this incredibly emollient product would be best used as a spot/undereye concealer. The 00 shade looks relatively pale and neutral-yellow, which is right up my alley, and I've been impressed by this brand so far.

4. Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask, $26 at Sephora -- Do I have plenty of thick, moisturizing lip balms? Yes. Could I probably get the same results from rubbing pure lanolin on my lips? Probably. Do I want to try this stuff anyway? You betcha.

5. Guerlain Shalimar Perfume, $150 at Nordstrom -- I've tested and enjoyed many of Shalimar's incarnations and flankers: Pure Parfum, Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Parfum Initial, vanilla-centric, incense-centric, etc. While it's mildly humorous to poke fun at how many different types of Shalimar you can find (and how far some people will go to get every single one), there's no doubting that this is a true classic with a well-deserved cult following.

6. Guerlain Rouge G L'Extrait in M65 Paresse, $51 at Sephora -- Why? WHY?! Why do I want this thing?! I've had zero interest in to the Rouge G line until about a week ago, when I decided to give them a closer look via Google Image search. Maybe it's just the hype that's getting me interesting...

7. Canmake cream blushes (clear/jelly finishes), $9.75 on eBay -- I've tried a number of the Canmake cream blushes, and I've been impressed with their performance overall. Unfortunately, most of the "original" line--the line full of milky pastels that tempt me like crazy--contain shimmer. And I am a major shimmerphobe. :( Enter the "clear finish" blushes. These jelly blushes are pigmented, dewy, and just as long lasting as the regular line, but they never look heavy or overdone. I am OBSESSED with the two shades I have, and I cannot wait to get more! (NOTE: If you're looking to buy the jelly finish, look for "CL" before the shade number.)

8. NARS Radiant Cream Compact Foundation in Siberia, $48 at Nordstrom (for compact + foundation) -- I oscillate between reeeeally wanting this stuff and having zero interest. I think it's because NARS Sheer Glow in Siberia is one of the few foundations that works for me, shade-wise, but I rarely have the patience for cream foundations. The NARS compact foundation is apparently great for dry skin, which is why it's currently on my lemmings list.


  1. I love this book, and felt okay about the film. I own both & also enjoy revisiting both. I had noticed that the make-up seemed wrong back when the film came out, but managed to ignore it. Luckily I can ignore a lot in film, as I agree it was probably for the western audience.

    1. I think part of the reason why it frustrates me--beyond the fact that the geisha makeup in the movie looks kind of stupid, especially on the otherwise gorgeous Gong Li--is because this is a movie about a Japanese subculture. Western audiences aren't dumb; they get that that's what this movie is about. In fact, most Americans I know assume that geisha are an extinct group of prostitutes with white faces and red lips. Wrong on two counts, but they clearly expect the stark makeup. Why change it for this movie, then?

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  3. I wasn't familiar with either the book or the movie, but I'm intrigued! I would probably have a lot of issues with the movie because small inaccuracies like that drive me insane!

    1. Y'know, it's not a terrible movie. It's not nearly as complex or interesting as the book, in part because they cut out a lot of the interesting subplots and cultural intricacies, but it's good popcorn fodder. Regardless, I don't get the logic here. Why do this washed out makeup in the name of modernity when it's a period piece and (as mentioned above) most of the western audience you're trying to appease already expects something outside of their realm of experience? And what the Hell is the logic behind showing Sayuri getting her hair waxed and oiled if you're not gonna follow through?!

    2. Also, it drives me nuts because the way they modernized/westernized the makeup makes it look so unflattering. Look at the shapes of the brows and lips in MoaG versus the brows and lips of actual geisha. Tell me that the latter aren't more flattering! It's mind-boggling.

  4. I've heard awesome things about the Tony Moly handcream, but some website (maybe xoVain?) did an article about it and mentioned that the peach one's container looks like a little butt, which I can NEVER UNSEE. I love peach-scented things but it does really look like a tush.

    1. AHAHAHA! Peaches, nectarines, and the like always look that way to me, to be honest.

  5. I love Gong Li in all of the Zhang Yimou films as well as the unforgettable Farewell My Concubine (is that really over 20 years old?), but I barely remember Memoirs of a Geisha. I'll have to read the book again.

    1. Farewell My Concubine and Raise the Red Lantern are two of my all-time favorite films. To Live was interesting as well, though I don't think it's quite as brilliant as FMC and RtRL.