Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh,
Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago),
Memoirs of a Geisha is the film adaptation of Arthur
Golden's book about a a young girl's progress in Japanese
society from indebted servant to one of the most powerful
geisha of her time. The film begins with in 1929, where the
main character, Chiyo, and her sister, Satsu, are sold by
their father. The girls are separated and Chiyo is placed
in an okiya as a maid to Hatsumomo, a Geisha who is envious
of Chiyo's blue eyes.
After a series of unfortunate events, Chiyo comes into a
fateful meeting with the Chairman (Watanabe). From this point,
she decides that she wants nothing but to work her way into
his life. After some time, she is brought under the proverbial
wing of Mameha (Yeoh) and is taught the ways of the geisha.
From this point, she is brought into conflict with Hatsumomo,
who is likewise training another in the ways of geisha - Chiyo's
friend, Pumpkin. This conflict brings about the games that
Geisha take with the clients with the prize being the heir
to the okiya that they grew up in. Of course, once the final
bout of the game is played and the winner announced, circumstances
take a decline as Japan is irrevocably changed with the events
of World War II. The world of mystique is turned into a tourist
trap as the nation plays host to American troops after the
war has ended. Even so, Chiyo is brought back to entertain
the Americans as a favor to the Chairman and Nobu.
Cast-Wise, the film is performed quite well. Suzuka Ohgo's
time on screen as the young Chiyo just isn't long enough as
she's wonderful. Her reaction to being tossed into the new
world is what drives the character. Other cast members, like
Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li and Koji Yakusho are fine in their roles,
establishing more passionate characters. Watanabe and Yeoh
are both good, even if they feel a bit understated.
Honestly, the visual presentation of Memoirs of a Geisha
is as close to art as one can get. A lot of effort went into
making the sets, locations and costumes feel accurate. The
film is done in such a manner that the viewer can't help but
be drawn into this world. Throughout most of the film, one
can't help but feel like this really is such a different world,
made all the more obvious when the American occupation almost
single-handedly modernizes the sets and makes the film feel
more drab and plain. The dance sequences are wonderfully done
and really deliver the living art concept that geisha are
played up to be.
Much like the cinematography, the musical score of John Williams
(with the aid of Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman) is wonderfully
moody and does a magnificent job of settling the viewer into
the time period and culture.
I will have to say that despite the gambit played between
the geisha, the love story is built a lot on faith. Watanbe
and Ziyi Zhang spend very little time on screen together and
despite some effective glances and nonverbal motions, I just
felt there wasn't enough development of their growing affection.
If you enjoyed Golden's novel or are intrigued by the subjects
matter or culture, Memoirs of a Geisha is a wonderful
film to watch, even if for the artistic presentation alone.
If you're looking for something more than a microcosm of the
timeperiod, you may come away disappointed by the focus on
one girl's growth into a geisha.