Memoirs Of A Geisha

 
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by:Robin Swicord, Doug Wright
Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Li Gong, Michelle Yeoh, Suzuka Ohgo, Yuki Kudoh
Released: January 19, 2006
Grade: A-

I had heard the word may times before but it wasn’t until I saw this film that I learned what being a geisha is all about.  They commence their training at a very young age and reside in special “geisha houses”.  Many come from a poor background and are adopted by more senior geisha who pay for all their expenses until they are fully trained.  Geisha are trained to be both well educated and artistic.  Most can sing, dance and play musical instruments.  It can be gruelling upbringing but once ready, they are the envy of all men.  They services are highly valued and are hired by men as escorts (without the sex) or to host gatherings.

Chiyo (Ohgo) is a beautiful 9-year-old girl who has been sold by her ailing parents to a geisha house.  She will initially work there as a servant but if she shows promise, the head geisha will allow her to commence geisha training.  Chiyo is distinctive in that she has gorgeous blue eyes, uncommon in Japan.  She has a face that is difficult to forget.

After being tricked into ruining an expensive kimono by a jealous rival (Li), Chiyo’s chances at becoming a geisha appeared ruined.  That is until she turns 15 and is approached by an experienced geisha named Mameha (Yeoh) who wants Chiyo to be her new protégé.  It is a late age at which to commence training but Mameha thinks she has the talent to become the most famous geisha of all.  Chiyo’s new name becomes Sayuri (Zhang) and the journey begins…

Set in Kyoto in the late 1930s, Memoirs Of A Geisha is based on Arthur Golden’s 1997 novel.  The world of geisha is usually kept secret but Golden worked with a geisha to obtain much of the detail for his story.  Her identity was supposed to remain a secret but after being named in the book, she sued Golden for defamation in that great shame had been brought to her and the profession.  The matter was settled out of court.

The film has been directed by Rob Marshall, the Academy Award nominated director of Chicago.  Every setting is picturesque and the outdoor scenes are rich and colourful.  This immaculate cinematography is the work of Australian Dion Beebe (Chicago, Collateral).  Born here in Brisbane, Beebe is one of the finest cinematographers in the business today.  His visuals are supported by an emotive film score from the ageless John Williams (who has now been nominated for 42 Academy Awards) and the gorgeous costumes of Colleen Atwood (Chicago, Little Women).  I expect it to perform strongly in the technical categories at this year’s Oscars.  To fully experience it, you must see this film on a big screen.

Some have been disappointed that the leading roles weren’t offered to Japanese actors.  Ziyi Zhang and Li Gong were born in China and Michelle Yeoh was born in Malaysia.  Only Ken Watanabe was born in Japan.  I have no problem with the casting and understand the decision to cast these particular actors.  They will boost the film’s profile but more importantly, they are very good in their roles.  Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is stunning as Sayuri.  All speak in English but when they speak quickly, their Asian accents are sometimes difficult to understand.

Memoirs Of A Geisha an interesting tale of love and learning.  I’m not in the habit of reading the book after seeing the movie but I may have to make an exception in this case.