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Memoirs’ a movie worth remembering

Michelle Fordice | Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Based on the internationally bestselling novel by Arthur Golden, “Memoirs of a Geisha” pays full tribute to the book’s fame and is even independently a wonderful piece.

Though the movie, like the book, may occasionally stray historically, the beauty of the film, its score and acting makes up for many of its inconsistencies.

“Memoirs of a Geisha” tells the story of Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo), later known as Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) – a nine year old girl taken from her fishing village, separated from her sister and sold to a Geisha house in Kyoto. She is set to work as a servant, suffering the vindictiveness of Hatsumomo (Li Gong), the most prominent Geisha of the house. With no hope of seeing her sister again, Chiyo despairs until she meets the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), whose kindness inspires her and kindles her love.

Eventually Chiyo is taken under the wing of Hatsumomo’s rival, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) and becomes one of the most renowned Geisha, changing her name to Sayuri. But soon World War II arrives, and that world begins to collapse around her. “Memoirs of a Geisha” is a story of finding one’s self in a world that does its best to hide and crush it.

Director Rob Marshall takes the same impacting visuals he used in “Chicago” and applies them to the softer and veiled world of the Geishas. In doing so, he creates stunning scenes that are just lined with darkness, reflecting the life of a Geisha, beautiful on the outside and more challenging within.

Despite all of the commotion before the release of the film due to the use of primarily Chinese instead of Japanese actors, the acting in “Memoirs of a Geisha” is done very well.

Ohgo builds a strong foundation for the protagonist that Zhang takes and molds, walking the fine line between Sayuri’s passivity and assertiveness.

“Memoirs of a Geisha” has a well-known cast, including such names as Ken Watanabe and Michelle Yeoh, but these actors do well to remain true to their characters, so the film does not turn into a simple name-dropping exercise.

With the talents of composer John Williams, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Ithzak Perlman all working in concert, the score of “Memoirs of a Geisha” is astounding. Subdued and beautiful, it complements the rest of the film and dances around two of the main characters – Sayuri and the Chairman – without ever becoming overpowering, thus remaining simply gorgeous.

The story of “Memoirs of a Geisha” may not be the best historical representation. There are some inaccuracies – some things are a bit too modern and never would have happened in the early- to mid-1900s, and World War II seems significantly underplayed. Most importantly, the realities of the time were probably not as beautiful as the film depicts them. Still, if taken with a little wariness, it remains a great story, if not the best history lesson.

The lost world of the Geisha is perhaps not one that should be mourned so beautifully; it was a life where silk wrapped darker secretes of intrigue, virginity was sold to the highest bidder, and girls faced constant struggle to assert any of their own will over their lives.

Still, “Memoirs of a Geisha” is a wonderful tale that for once gives a happy ending to a Geisha’s struggles and does so in a wonderfully artistic way.