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Movie Review: Memoirs of a Geisha 2005

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Memoirs of a Geisha (Click image for a larger one)As can be expected, the movie version of Arthur Golden’s 1997 best-selling novel is breathtaking and visually luxurious and entertaining, but then again is unmatched to the richly emotional and very poignant literary form that made me sleepless for nights and brought tears to my eyes.

At a young age of 9, Chiyo (Zhang Ziyi) together with her sister were sold separately to a geisha house by their impecunious and ailing parents. The moment she stepped in this house, she was quickly mistreated by Hatsumomo, the beautiful geisha reining in it and so for the next six years, she labored through great lengths to pay debts, forget her complex experiences from losing her family all at once and anticipate reconciliation between her and her sister.

Chiyo grew up ordinary looking but with astute eyes, and with haunted thoughts of her sister, which mostly she endured through long hours of hard work so she could survive and forget. What brought change into her monotonous and what seemed like a hopeless life was an encounter with an older gentleman known as “Chairman” (I believe that an actor with more depth in character or with expressive face would have given the role more justice). Anyway, after their ordinary but elusive meeting, Chiyo’s inner gifts — imagination, concealed energy and capacity to love — plus multi-layered strength which maybe she didn’t realize lived inside were altogether unleashed. Okay, here’s another story of a young girl (or a child, if you like) who regained passion for living because there was a man that gave her attention.

After she turned fifteen, the complacent servant’s twisted faith seesawed once more when the attractive and famous Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) of another geisha house took her as an apprentice and trained her. She was to become famous as Sayuri (it is a Japanese tradition to change your name once you felt you have reached a significant point in your life), the geisha with the unique sharp watery eyes. What she didn’t know was that the dream she’s long waited for(to become a geisha) was only the start of astonishing years of rivalries, defeats, simple pleasures and minimum encounters with her unrequited love. Not to mention, emotional agonies and true understanding of becoming a geisha (It was stressed in the film that the geisha life is an art and not a conventional one for that matter).

And so, Sayuri was embraced by a new chapter of life and though it was not as glamorous as she had thought, her grace came through eventually. And whatever illusions she may have had for the “Chairman” which she secretly carried for many years in her heart definitely worked for her advantage for much of her vigorous defense for life was a by product of this love. That’s the reigning theme of this movie: Love.

However, the movie, because of limited time, fell short on some important segments like that of Sayuri’s supposed “conscious and unconscious” search for her sister or the development of her love interest to this Chairman (both were richly conveyed in the book). Naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder why there was so much of Chairman in the book that I didn’t see in the film.

On the whole though, I admired the “delicious” treatment done to the film (or novel). And, I will probably hate anyone who will say it’s a flawed movie. Everything was lovely, dramatic and exquisitely picked from setting, costume and sounds. It was a story everyone could have believed to begin with. The premise is almost perfect so there was little room for errors. It’s an understatement to say that I truly enjoyed watching it.

I think, too, that little details are what make any movie rich in flavor. Whether you prefer drama or action or comedy. Again, I was fascinated by the countless intricate elements presented in the film, which included the make-up, which was perhaps the most glamorous facet in the book and the movie or the “golden” voice of Sayuri, which was the direction and mind of the film—all of which didn’t fail to take me to a different emotional perspective.

Lastly, I shall raise my champagne glass to Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) who skillfully portrayed the sweets and sorrows of Sayuri’s radiant journey in life on the big screen with such brilliant style. I felt the power of Sayuri (and, of course, Ziyi’s acting was great to say the least) in every scene and because of this film I think that I now see women as more. I believe though that the greatest achievement of this movie was the very brave portrayal of Sayuri as a child, woman and geisha and how the script managed to successfully construct her as a very interesting character that is truly unforgettable and remarkable.

(Djae Mendoza)

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  • Purple Tigress

    Ah, yes. Another believe in a stereotype that thanks the director, despite problems of authenticity. How touching.

    Gay men get a wonderful cowboy film. Geisha and Asian women by extension become subject to a man’s fantasy. A thousand tears wetting the sleeves.

  • Luke

    I’ll see it on video, I’m probably going to agree with Tigress about most of it, but while I’m watching it, I’m going to imagine it’s set in an alternate dimension, so everything is authentic, but only authentic to the alternate dimension, which is a poor imitation of ours.

  • Djae

    The key is to accept that there’s a lucid yet unacceptable relationship between reality and the so-called alternate dimension. So whatever idea showcased in the film, fact still remains that most of it, if not all actually happened and can happen anytime, anywhere.

    See the movie but try, if you can, to remove biases.

  • Akira

    When watching the movie, don’t place yourself under the influence of the “brand name” Rob Marshall, and then give the movie many themes that the director might have never thought of. I think this adaptation is good, but not so good as I expected. If the novel is filled with passion and struggling spirit, the movie appears to me as a mere fairy tale, with beautiful setting, costume and music.