MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA
A HUGE THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!
Sometimes films are excellent. Sometimes they exceed our expectations. And sometimes — just sometimes — they transcend all of that and turn into something more; they become a work of art.
Such is the case with MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA directed by Rob Marshall (CHICAGO, 2002). Based on Arthur Golden’s best-selling novel of the same name, this movie goes beyond cinema and transports you to another time and country.
The film begins on the shores of pre-WWII Japan in a tiny fishing village where a mother lay dying. Two daughters peer between wood slats at their father as he speaks to an ominous looking man in a nice suit. Chiyo (an amazing Suzuka Ohgo) and her older sister are soon ripped away from their family and forced into a world of servitude. Chiyo’s older sister is lost to houses of ill-repute, while Chiyo is pulled into a strange yet beautiful home run by a demanding "mother" and "auntie." Chiyo has entered the realm of the Geisha.
Being a pretty young girl with blue eyes, Chiyo is selected to go to Geisha school. But bad blood is brewing in Chiyo’s new home. A beautiful Geisha already lives there and quickly becomes jealous of Chiyo. Terrible threats and beatings ensue, and one lonely day, while Chiyo is on a bridge overlooking a river, a handsome man approaches (Ken Watanabe, THE LAST SAMURAI) with kind words and gives her some sweet ice. They chat and Chiyo is immediately enamored with him. She now has a goal. She will become the best Geisha ever so that they might meet again.
As Chiyo grows and becomes more and more beautiful and wanted, the house she lives in is ready to ignite. Now fully Geisha and fully grown (Ziyi Zhang, RUSH HOUR 2), she is bribed away from Mama-san and moves in with Mameha (Michelle Yeoh, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) who teaches her the true nature of Geisha.
World War II, other men, jealous Geisha, and years of isolation block Chiyo’s plans to meet up with her first love. But through perseverance, prayer, and trust, Chiyo’s wishes cannot be denied.
This film is, as stated earlier, a piece of art. Every frame, every image, is carefully crafted, taking into consideration light, color, imagery, facial features, the times, and a multitude of other items I can’t even begin to explain nor understand.
The initial dark lighting of the film was an excellent way to start, giving us a feel for those sullen times, and also letting us know that this part of the narrator's memory was fuzzy and long ago. But as the film progresses, we see brighter colors and light. By the time the film wraps up, the colors are so wondrous you feel like you could eat the screen or, at the very least, reach out and pluck this flower or that.
There’s been a lot of commentary about the use of Chinese actors and actresses in prime roles rather than Japanese. This is undeniably so. But it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it (have we become so self-righteous that we can’t have other races playing in such roles? Does anyone remember Marlon Brando in TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON?)
Could the production crew have tried harder to put a Japanese native in one of those positions? Probably. But this film is so sumptuous, I didn’t even notice the differences (no disrespect meant to anyone Japanese.)
Oscar Award Winner: Achievement in Costume Design
Oscar Award Winner: Achievement in Art Direction
Oscar Award Winner: Achievement in Cinematography
Golden Globe Winner: Best Original Score - Motion Picture
BAFTA Award Winner: Achievement in Film Music
BAFTA Award Winner: Cinematography
BAFTA Award Winner: Costume Design