Memoirs of a Geisha

Dan Movie Reviews

Tonight I went to a Producers Guild screening of the film version of the hit novel Memoirs of a Geisha. Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago) – who introduced the film – and starring a pan-Asian cast including Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe and Michelle Yeoh, the film follows the story of Sayuri, an impoverished Japanese girl who is sold by her parents and taken to the Hanamachi. Once there, she is sent on a path to become a geisha – but the road is not easy. She is given renewed hope by a stranger known only as “The Chairman” (Watanabe) gives her some good advice.

Now with renewed determination, she strives to become a geisha. But she gets thrown completely off course after being set-up by Hatsumomo (Li Gong) – the current geisha of the house. Now consigned to being a servant, many years pass, and Sayuri (Ziyi) is given renewed hope at becoming a geisha when a wager is made between her boss and Mahema (Yeoh). I won’t get into the plot anymore, but let’s just say it was really interesting to see the training and transformation of Ziyi into a geisha. Emotionally, she is in love with The Chairman, but has to make many sacrifices – for a geisha does not love.

One major problem with the film is that none of the leads speak a common language. Ziyi is from China, and Watanabe is from Japan, etc. So they all speak English. With thick accents. Sometimes it’s too hard to understand what they’re saying, and other times you wonder why they’re switching into Japanese! I was pleased with the cinematography, but it was only impressive at the beginning – then just became more of the same sets, etc.

Obviously the music by John Williams was the highlight of the film, for me, and it worked quite well. My review is up at SoundtrackNet, so I’ll just leave it at that. I’d be curious to know what Spielberg’s vision of the film was (he was supposed to direct it, but in the end, just produced it).

There was a Q&A after the screening with producer Douglas Wick, and it was pretty informative. I even got to ask my question about Williams’ involvement with the film, so yay for me. In the end, Memoirs of a Geisha is a well crafted film that will undoubtedly get many accolades – but it’s not an amazing film, and runs a little long. Still, I’d recommend it as one of the better films I’ve seen this winter.