Exit Viewer

The Demimonde in Japanese Literature: Sexuality and the Literary Karyûkai By Cynthia ...

Chapter :  Introduction: The Demimonde as Genre, Metaphor, and Space
Read
image Next
The Demimonde in Japanese Literature:

of Memoirs of a Geisha as grand and bustling, akin to a roomy, hectic, larger-than-life, and over-the-top theme park. The director of the latter film tried to instill a sense of the closed, highly specialized, and discrete space of Gion, not so much through visual style, but through the script's heavy use of adjectives and nouns such as “forbidden,” “secret,” “mysteries,” and “artist” (the last a word meant to denote a separation from everyday life—and, in this context, a distinction between geisha and prostitutes, which is belied by the film's emphasis on sex/romance over art).

This difference in spatial rendering reflects a divergence in narrative viewpoint: the shots of the rooftops of Gion in Memoirs of a Geisha broadcast the fact that it is an outsider's (unabashedly orientalist) view of the demimonde that guides the viewer, whereas the alleys and intimately framed scenes of Gion no shimai visually embody an insider's entrenchment within that world. On another level, the grandeur of the one film versus the claustrophilia of the other mirrors their different approaches to narrative structure. For, as Judy Bloch wrote, “Mizoguchi capitalizes on the narrow alleyways and shuttered windows of the Gion to create a milieu closed off to the traditional machinations of well-meaning narrative.”2 His roji symbolize a sense of entrapment that complements the story of two geisha who are condemned to a life of disappointments and suffering, in which money, not love, is the most important commodity to a woman. In contrast, Marshall's roofs and vistas buoy the improbable romanticism of what is basically a retelling of the age-old Western story of the hooker with a heart of gold. Many of the issues raised by these two films—including the way in which the three-dimensional space of the demimonde is represented in two-dimensional film and disembodied narrative, the tension between demimonde “insiders” and “outsiders,” the clash between reality and fantasy, the persistence of suffering and trauma, the emphasis (or lack thereof ) on monetary transactions, and the dangers of orientalizing and/or exoticizing this sexualized space—are prevailing themes in this book.

To Pascal, imagination was, in a derogatory sense, “the mistress of the world.”3 Seizing this metaphor, one could read the ubiquity of literature of, in, and about the demimonde as a collision of the impetus and