Sunday, January 15, 2006

Recently, I was asked why I write my blog. It took me a moment to formulate an answer, as for me it is now such a given. The desire for self-expression is one of the most fundamental urges. Art feeds upon itself.

I remember skimming through The Diaries of Anais Nin when I was young. My mother was a big fan of her work and would frequently check out a volume of her prolific diaries from the library. Perhaps this French literary figure/femme fatale's steamy exploits, lyrically recorded in her private journals, were an inspiration as well. If you are not familiar with Anais Nin's diaries, you might have heard of the film Henry and June about her romance with the writer Henry Miller and his wife June. "Just one page of Nin's extraordinary diaries contains more sex, melodrama, fantasies, confessions, and observations than most novels, and reflects much about the human psyche we strive to repress," writes Donna Seaman of Booklist.


I just finished the Jenna Jameson memoir I mentioned in my last post. Now that was a harrowing tale. No doubt about it, she graduated from the school of hard knocks: a chaotic, neglectful familiy life, unsavory, exploitive men, self-esteem issues and drug addiction. The path she has travelled and the things she has experienced are very different from my own. I am fortunate to have been raised by a loving family who supported me throughout my schooling here and abroad. It was an intellectually inquisitive and socially progressive home where I was never pushed to grow up too fast. In large part because of my stable roots, I avoided all those problems -- abusive men, eating disorders, addiction -- which Jenna and too many other women have faced.

Though I cannot entirely relate to this porn superstar, I completely respect her for all that she has been through and accomplished. Jenna Jameson is a survivor. A strong woman who has become a powerful player in the adult industry, a best-selling author and a household name. I admire her for her strength of will and her trailblazing autonomy as a female performer in a tough business.


I saw Memoirs of a Geisha the other day. It was a visually beautiful film. And I thought Gong Li was especially exceptional as Hatsumomo, the main character Sayuri's rival. The movie closely followed the novel. Yet somehow it made it all seem more sad. There were slight changes that seemed to tilt the tone in this direction (OK if you don't want any plot points spoiled, please read no further).

In the book, I don't recall Mameha screaming at Sayuri that she was "worthless" when her precious virginity was in question. Or Sayuri collapsing to the floor in tears when the Baron forced her to expose herself to him. And in the novel, Pumpkin did not declare the reason for her betrayal at all. Whereas in the film, she says to Sayuri, "You took away the only thing that mattered to me. And I wanted you to know how it feels." And of course, the film ended before she left Japan and re-settled in New York, which somehow struck me as less uplifting as well.

In the end, I am glad that the film did not glamorize the life of the geisha. Though I find it interesting how differently the book and movie affected me. After reading the novel, I stayed immersed in that world and let myself imagine what it would have been like to have been a geisha. Yet after the film, I did not feel any identification with these women.

I think a core difference is that in the novel, Sayuri spoke of her trials and tribulations with a soft, accepting tone. I suppose having little or no emotional reaction to events does not convey well, so for drama's sake the film was more charged and more negative.

One thing that I think is awesome about the movie is it's the first Hollywood production with an all-Asian cast. A few times while watching it, I would stop for a moment and look around the packed theater and marvel at how everyone was engrossed in the storyline, seeing Asian actors simply as people in a story rather than alien beings. I know there has been controversy in China and Japan because the three main actresses are Chinese rather than Japanese. Well, at least none of them are white pretending to be Asian as we have seen the past! Every step helps.