Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) - ★★★★★

Director: Rob Marshall
Writers: Robin Swicord (screenplay), Arthur Golden (novel)
Stars: Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, Li Gong

I started watching this film with little knowledge on the life of a Japanese Geisha, and left in amazement at the skills they have and the lives they lead. This secret world has been opened up with this wonderful film that beautifully depicts the true story of one Japanese Geisha with blue eyes; the eyes of water.

Set in 1929, an impoverished nine-year-old girl named Chiyo is sold to a geisha house in Kyoto, where she undergoes cruel treatment from the owners and the head geisha Hatsumomo (Li Gong). Her stunning beauty attracts the vindictive jealousy of Hatsumomo, until she is taken under the wing of Hatsumomo's bitter rival, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh). Under her mentorship, Chiyo becomes the geisha named Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), trained in all the artistic and social skills a geisha must master in order to survive in her society. As a renowned geisha she enters a society of wealth, privilege and war between herself and Hatsumomo. Not far in the future is World War II, where the world of geisha's are changed forever.

I had my reservations about the film being in the English language rather than Japanese because I felt that it would be less effective. One of the great things about Memoirs of a Geisha was that it felt authentically Japanese whilst being spoken in English. It submerges you in the world of these Geishas, where they must compete against each other in order to get customers and earn a living. It also shows the sad reality that many of these women were sold into the business and had to become Geishas to pay back the debt they owed to the people that bought them. It's a very education film that leaves you thinking.

The acting throughout the film was just marvellous, with the accents sounding authentic for the most part. Li Gong as Hatsumomo was the standout of the film, who could stare daggers into Sayuri whilst still looking kind. Ziyi Zhang was great as the young and kind main character. Michelle Yeoh commanded the attention of the audience whenever she was on-screen. She did the same in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but this time as a graceful geisha rather than a martial arts expert.

From the very first scene I was sucked into the story of Sayuri. The story is told so well through the usage of astonishingly beautiful music and locations. It's no wonder that Memoirs of a Geisha won three Academy Awards including an Oscar for cinematography. At the centre of the film is a very sweet love story that does not overbear the many stories from other moments in her life. The love story has such great importance to the movie yet is only mentioned from time to time, which made it all the more effective.

I cannot say whether the film does the book justice. All I know is that if the book is much better than this adaptation, then that must be one hell of a book!

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