Memoirs of a Geisha

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            After looking back at some of my older reviews, I discovered that while I had reviewed the soundtrack of Memoirs of a Geisha and the novel by Arthur Golden that inspired the movie, I had yet to review the movie itself.  How could I have forgotten?  No matter - with this review, I will remedy that situation.

            Much like the novel, the movie is about a young Japanese girl named Chiyo Sakamoto (Suzuka Ohgo) who has been sold to an okiya by her ailing father who realizes he can no longer care for his daughters properly now that his wife is dying.  Once at the okiya, Chiyo learns that she is to become a geisha, one of the many elegant and artistic women she sees all over her new home town of Gion.  Unfortunately, the top geisha of the okiya Chiyo lives in, Hatsumomo (Gong Li), sees the beauty in this young child.  Hatsumomo does not like competition and thus vows to make Chiyo’s life miserable.

            Just when Chiyo believes she is destined to be only a slave/servant to the okiya rather than a geisha, Chiyo meets a kind and generous man who captures her heart.  Chiyo vows to become a geisha if only to become that much closer to The Chairman (Ken Watanabe).  With the help of one of the most famous geisha in Gion, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), Chiyo evolves into a geisha worthy of admiration.

            Now known as Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi), she becomes the envy of all the geisha in town.  But Sayuri’s journey has only begun.  World War II has begun and the war is having its effect on everyone.  Sayuri must go into hiding to survive, taking her further and further away from the man she yearns for but can never hope to be with.  Will Sayuri ever find a way to be with Chairman after all that has come between them?

            Memoirs of a Geisha is an epic love story in a beautiful setting.  The scenes are mostly dark, but this helps to offset the beauty of the geisha.  From the make-up to the costumes, geisha are a work of art and the darker sets help to accentuate that beauty and make it more striking.  The acting in this film is such that one can hardly believe that these are just actors portraying fictional characters.  So powerful are their performances that you can’t help but sympathize with their plight.  The story is captivating.  One finds themselves rooting for Chiyo/Sayuri and pitying Hatsumomo.

            The music is absolutely beautiful.  The score was created by John Williams and features Yo Yo Ma performing the cello solos and Itzhak Perlman performing the violin solos.  The music is enchanting and Chiyo/Sayuri’s theme is so beautiful that it stands out in every track it is mixed into.

            On a whole, Memoirs of a Geisha stays true to the novel.  Of course, some scenes have been left out or shortened for the sake of the movie’s time constraints, but these omissions do nothing to take away from the main storyline.  Memoirs of a Geisha is a movie based on historical fiction that captivates its viewers with its cinematography and captures their hearts with its tale of love and determination in the face of adversity.  This is one movie worth watching again and again.


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