Memoirs of a Geisha

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Memoirs of a Geisha
Review (6.5/10)
(By Brendan Cullin)


Memoirs of a Geisha begins with a young Japanese girl named Chiyo (later renamed Sayuri) and her older sister being sold into slavery by their poor fisherman parents. Sayuri ends up as a servant in a house of geishas, where she is abused both verbally and physically. Sayuri repeatedly tries to escape the abuse of Mother (Kaori Momoi) and Hatsumomo (Gong Li) but is unsuccessful. After one failed attempt, she meets an elegant man named The Chairman (Ken Watanabe), a man who feeds her and reassures her during her time of need.

Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) falls in love with The Chairman and carries this love into her adult years when she is acquired by Mameba (Michelle Yeoh) and goes through the arduous training that is required to become a geisha. Sayuri eventually transforms into the most sought after geisha in the land, much to the chagrin of Hatsumomo, who used to own this title.

The battle between Sayuri and Hatsumomo for the wallets of wealthy men takes us through musical performances by the geisha, to a sumo wrestling match and finally to an outstanding dancer performance by Sayuri.

The outset of World War II marks the fall of the geisha as Japanese women claiming to be geisha are no more than cheap prostitutes trying to hustle American servicemen. Geisha is no longer an art. Sayuri, who was hiding in the mountains, returns to Kyoto to try to restore honour to the title of geisha and seek the heart of the man she has always loved.

Memoirs of a Geisha is director Rob Marshall's follow-up to his Oscar-winning efforts in Chicago. Geisha is a visually stunning and superbly acted movie. The set designs, costumes and atmosphere in the movie are exactly what I would expect a 1930's and 40's Japan to look and feel like. Based purely on set and costume designs, Memoirs is definitely Oscar-worthy. Most of the actors and actresses are flawless. Both Zhang and Watanabe are outstanding but the entire cast is not too far behind.

Where Memoirs falls short is in the feeling of the movie. You like the characters but do you really love them? Can you really love and care for people who sell their virginity to the highest bidder? Do you really feel for the men who pay for it? Memoirs makes you like them but wants you to love them. You decide how you feel. I can tell you that I liked but did not love. Perhaps if The Chairman was a man who didn't pay for sex and saved a young girl from a form of prostitution, I may have felt differently. But in the end, Memoirs of a Geisha is a visually stunning movie, blessed with outstanding performances, but a movie that ultimately leaves you feeling cold and empty.

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