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Memoirs of a Geisha


Six year old Chiyo, a poor fisherman's daughter, is sold to a geisha house where she is spurred on in her geisha training by a chance meeting with a kind gentleman (the Chairman played by Ken Watanabe) whom she falls in love with as a little girl. Covering about 25 years of her life, it chronicles her training, opposition from her nemesis Hatsumomo, world affairs (WWII), and her growth into adulthood as she takes on her geisha name of Sayuri.

What I Thought

Since I read the book a few weeks before seeing the movie, a disclaimer is in order. I think the quote "the book is always better than the movie" is attributed to Julius Caesar (although it didn't show up in the amazing first season of HBO's Rome) and it is very much true in this case. I will try my best to separate the two.

The pluses:

The movie is gorgeous to look at. The colors, the village, the costumes. Geisha are of course expected to dress impeccably and in the most sumptuous and beautiful fabrics and colors, and this movie does not disappoint in that regard. It makes you almost long for the days before sneakers and tshirts where people (with money, but that's all of us, right?) dressed more "classy". Not that *we* don't dress classy...

Where was I?

The acting is passable, though I was expecting more from Ken Watanabe (Last Samurai) and Ziyi Zhang. Oh wait, we haven't gotten to the minuses yet.

OK, I'm impatient. The minuses:

The acting is a little flat and unemotional. Maybe it's the accents. I would have much rather had this movie in Japanese (though that would have been hard since most of the actors were Chinese!) with subtitles. It would have added a bit of mystery and romantic flair to the movie that wasn't present.

The only one I'm really happy with is Mameha (Michelle Yeoh, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) who becomes Chiyo's mentor in the geisha world.

And it's not as good as the book. The book gets into Chiyo/Sayuri's inner voice, and you get to experience her growth, her loneliness, and her feelings for the Chairman. You just can't beat that.

More faithful to the book than other movies, I'll call this a decent rental. I expect awards for costumes and such, and that's about it.


All photos and text copyright Ryszard Kilarski, unless otherwise noted. Clip art, drawings, paintings are either free domain or copyrighted by the artists.