Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Kimono Costumes in 'Memoirs of a Geisha'

This week I watched 'Memoirs of a Geisha' (2005). I read the book back in 2008, and the story has kept with me since then. It is a fantastically written novel, and film director Rob Marshall did a great job of recreating the settings and scenes I had imagined.
The film ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, based on the novel by Arthur Golden, won 3 Oscars (alongside 21 other wins and 29 nominations) when it was released in 2005. These Oscars, won for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design are richly deserved by a creative team that constructed an incredible 1930s Japanese world that captivates its audience. Here are some stills of my favourite Kimonos – each one unique and informative.

The narrative follows Chiyo's life as she grows from a poor fisherman's daughter to the most popular Geisha in the city. Colleen Atwood's costume designs reflect this transformation - the grey, rough fabrics of childhood kimonos signify Chiyo's status and insignificance. Once a Geisha, Chiyo (now known as Sayuri) wears silks and luxurious pastel colours.
In contrast, Hatsumomo's kimonos are dark, rich colours. Often in shades of red, they highlight her fiery temper and passion. Mameha's costumes display her calm and accomplished character. The silks they are made of are graceful, while the choice of toned-down browns and greys connote experience, sincerity and wisdom.
Not only do the colours of the kimonos change, but their style does to. With the invasion of the Western culture during WWII, many geishas, Pumpkin for example, are forced to change the way the act and dress to please their new American clients. Pumpkin's clothing and hairstyle pictured above is very different to the conservative, traditional Japanese costumes. The cut of the dress, the curled hair and simplistic make-up mimics the popular style in 1940s England and America. This transition in costume is sad - it signifies the end of an era: an era of decadence, art, and beauty.
Although some compromises were made in terms of authenticity of kimono design, these are understandable. Atwood noted “the subtlety of an actual geisha dress wouldn’t have the right impact on film...We were taking an art form that is a huge part of Japanese culture but it was important to remember that we were making a movie based on a book of fiction, written by a guy, about a geisha. It is not a documentary film.” Instead, the shapes of these kimonos suit a modern audience better - they are a little more revealing in some places, have a little more figure to them. As a "glammed-up" version, these costumes are fantastic for a modern, Western audience - think of them as an 'introduction' to Japanese kimonos!

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