Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) – REVIEW

by Jordache Wee

Release Date: December 9, 2005
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Music by: John Williams
Starring: Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, Ken Watanabe, Kōji Yakusho, Youki Kudoh, Kaori Momoi, Tsai Chin, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Suzuka Ohgo, Kenneth Tsang, Karl Yune, Samantha Futerman

During the Showa Era, Chiyo Sakamoto ( Suzuka Ohgo as a child, and by Zhang Ziyi as an adult), a young and poor Japanese girl with blue eyes her older sister Satsu (Samantha Futerman) were sold by their parents when she was nine years old. Chiyo is taken in by the proprietress of a geisha house. But Satsu was rejected and is sold to another house as a prostitute in Hanamachi.

Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo) running away from the okiya

At the okiya (geisha house) Chiyo meets another young girl named “Pumpkin” (Youki Kudoh). Both girls are sent off to geisha school but Chiyo dishonors the okiya by attempting to run away and is forced to work repaying her debt of her purchase and the ruining a silk kimono owned by a well-known geisha, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), which Chiyo was blackmailed into defacing by another geisha, Hatsumomo (Gong Li), who is famous, beautiful and cruel who also lives in the okiya.

Chiyo is beaten in the courtyard by Mother (Kaori Momoi), but Auntie (Tsai Chin) convinces her to let herself take over and punishes Chiyo. Chiyo runs away to find her sister Satsu.

When she returns in secret, she saw Hatsumomo and Koichi (Karl Yune) having sex in the shed. Mother heard and Hatsumomo have Koichi get going away and framed Chiyo for stealing money, after asking her why she was back.

While about to be caned, Chiyo tells Mother that Hatusmomo was having sex with a man. Mother reached under Hatsumomo’s kimono and slaps her. Hatsumomo never sees Koichi again. When Chiyo escapes again to run away with her sister, she is forced to use a different route. Since the okiya gate is locked after Hatsumomo’s disgrace, Chiyo climbs over rooftops until she can see the bridge in the distance. Chiyo falls from a rooftop and ends up back in the okiya being seen to by a doctor.

That night, her sister ran away without waiting and Chiyo is left behind again at the okiya and she began training to be a geisha to repay her debts.

Chairman Iwamura Ken (Ken Watanabe)

One day while crying in the street, Chiyo is noticed by Chairman Iwamura Ken (Ken Watanabe) and his geisha companions. Chiyo is afraid to make eye contact with the Chairman, who gives her his handkerchief with some money in it. Inspired by his act of kindness, Chiyo resolves to become a geisha so that she may one day become a part of the Chairman’s life.

Chiyo is taken under the wing of Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), one of the most beautiful and generous geisha in Kyoto who has always been kind and forgiving. Under Mameha’s tutelage, Chiyo becomes a maiko (geisha in training) and then Sayuri, the most famous geisha in all Gion, Kyoto. Hatsumomo becomes Sayuri’s rival.

Chiyo/Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi), Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) and Hatsumomo (Gong Li)

As a geisha, Sayuri reunites with the Chairman and longs to catch his attention, but instead has to lead on the Chairman’s friend and business partner Nobu (Kōji Yakusho), who falls fast for her. Sayuri grows in popularity and Hatsumomo spreads lies and rumors to ruin Sayuri’s reputation.

Sayuri at the Spring Dance

Meanwhile Mameha starts a bidding war for Sayuri’s mizuage which will make her a full geisha. Sayuri gets named the lead dancer for the Spring Dances, where she dances wonderfully and catches the attention of bidders, including the Baron (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), who invites Sayuri to his house for a party, gives her a kimono and forcefully stripping her.

After the party Mameha heard what happened and believes that the Baron took Sayuri’s virginity. Sayuri cries and tells Mameha that nothing happened and she is not worthless. That night the bid is finally placed by an elderly doctor known as Doctor Crab, for 15,000 yen—the highest mizuage bid in history.

When returning home, Sayuri finds Hatsumomo in her room, who found the Chairman’s handkerchief and attempts to burn it. Sayuri and Hatsumomo fought and accidentally start a fire. Hatsumomo purposely begins to burn the rest of the house and then leaves.

Soon, World War II arrives, he safety of Sayuri and Mameha is ensured by the Chairman but they must endure a life of hard labor. Both Sayuri and Mameha were separated and reunited after the war.

But the chairman has yet to return and presumably dead. Almost feeling lost, Sayuri intends to throw away the handkerchief when he suddenly appear safely in one piece. Finally, Sayuri reveals her love to the Chairman.

Reviewer’s Note:
Not really an excellent story. But in terms of the art direction captured on the screen is magnificent and beautiful. The colors just blend in well from beginning till end.

A complicated life and childhood during the Showa era where human trafficking is just common. Selling children is a way to obtain what you need.

Chiyo/Sayuri is depicted to have a sad childhood with no one to turn to. Besides it’s not her choice when her parents decided to sell her and her sister.

The forbidden love is just lacking. Though some are needless to be said but it’s not shown. 

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