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Decoding International LawSemiotics and the Humanities$
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Susan Tiefenbrun

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195385779

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385779.001.0001

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The japanese culture, copyright infringement, defamation, and sex trafficking

The japanese culture, copyright infringement, defamation, and sex trafficking

A Study of The Fictional Life of a Geisha

Decoding International Law

Susan Tiefenbrun

Oxford University Press

Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha captures the duality of the geisha who is both revered as an artist and reviled as a sex slave. At its worst, the geisha tradition involves force, fraud, deception, and the horrifying practice of selling one's own children into slavery for purposes of sexual exploitation. In striving for historical accuracy and narrative verisimilitude, Golden obtains an intimate interview with a real geisha named Mineko Iwasaki. The fairy-tale quality of the novel, its unusual narrative style, and its poetic prose, created an instant literary success for Arthur Golden. However, four years after its publication in 1997, Iwasaki shocked the literary world by filing a lawsuit against Arthur Golden and his publishers claiming breach of a confidentiality agreement, quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, copyright infringement, defamation of character, misappropriation of property, and violation of her rights to privacy and publicity. This chapter tries to answer the following two questions about the cultural tradition of the geisha: first, is the geisha tradition (as described by Golden in his fictional biography) a variant of sex trafficking and sexual slavery, which despite possible cultural justifications should be abolished by law? Second, did Iwasaki's lawsuit have any legal merit? To answer these questions, this study will proceed in accordance with structuralist and post-structuralist literary critical methods by looking first at the text itself and then its context, subtext, and post-text to explain the plaintiff's pre-text for suing. It analyzes the narrative structures and style of the text; the legal and historic context of the novel; the legal issues hidden in the subtext (which include sex trafficking, feminist legal theory, and the role of cultural relativism as a justification for the geisha tradition); the post-text (which are the merits, if any, of Iwasaki's legal claims in the Complaint she filed four years after the publication of the fictional biography); and finally, the big issue, the pre-text, or why the real geisha sued Arthur Golden and his publishers.

Keywords:   Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha, Mineko Iwasaki

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