Opening 19 Jan 2006
Director Rob Marshall follows up his Academy Award-winning film Chicago with Memoirs of a Geisha, based on the acclaimed novel by Arthur Golden. Told in almost fable-form from the memories of the elderly main character, Geisha starts with the young, poor Chiyo being sold by her desperate fisherman father to work as a servant in a geisha house in Japan in 1929. Despite horrendous obstacles – including the obsessive jealousy of the house’s main source of income, the beautiful but spiteful geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li) – Chiyo blossoms into a lovely geisha, renamed Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang). She is mentored by the legendary geisha Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) and soon becomes one of the most renowned geisha of her time, but she is forever haunted by a secret love for a man she met as a child but can never have, the Chairman (Ken Watanabe). But her fate takes a strange turn when World War II fighting finally arrives in the streets of Japan.
Geisha has taken a long time to come to the big screen, with the film having had many directors (including Steven Spielberg, who stayed on as a producer) and actors attached to it over the years, but Marshall proves that his success with Chicago was no fluke. Geisha is beautifully executed, from the intricate sets to the gorgeous costumes to the haunting score by John Williams. It also does quite a good job of condensing the detail-filled novel into a 140-minute film, leaving out portions of the story (unfortunate but necessary) but keeping the emotional impact intact. Much has been made about the fact that the three main actresses are Chinese women playing iconic Japanese characters, but it is hard to argue with their exceptional performances: Zhang, Yeoh, and Li are all superb. Overall, while certainly Marshall has taken some artistic license with his presentation of geisha and their culture, these memoirs are poignant, breathtaking and well-worth experiencing. (Kirsten Greco)