Memoirs of a Geisha
Starring:
Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Koji Yakusho
Directed By:
Rob Marshall
Grade
A-

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.

- - Kinderfeld

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