Publicity Stills of "Memoirs of a Geisha"
(Courtesy from Columbia TriStar)

Photo by David James

Photo by David James

Photo by David James

Photo by David James

Genre: Drama
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, Koji Yakusho, Youki Kudoh, Kaori Momoi, Tsai Chin, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Gong Li
RunTime: 2 hrs 25 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: PG (Sexual References)
Offical Website: http://www.sonypictures.net/movies/memoirsofageisha/

Opening Day: 19 January 2006


Based on the internationally acclaimed novel by Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha is a sweeping romantic epic set in a mysterious and exotic world that still casts a potent spell today. The story begins in the years before WWII when a penniless Japanese child is torn from her family to work as a maid in a geisha house. Despite a treacherous rival who nearly breaks her spirit, the girl blossoms into the legendary geisha Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang). Beautiful and accomplished, Sayuri captivates the most powerful men of her day, but is haunted by her secret love for the one man who is out of her reach (Ken Watanabe).

Movie Review:

Other than Jackie Chan, she might be the most recognizable Asian face in the Hollywood circle nowadays. Having appeared in more acclaimed movies than any other actress and has worked under fame directors such as Zhang Yimou, Lee Ang and Wong Kar-Wei and has her hair styled by our very own David Gan, she is none other than Zhang Ziyi or Ziyi Zhang as what the Yankees have been calling her. Despite receiving flakes for her latest role as a “geisha” in China, Zhang Ziyi is nevertheless the IT girl, a fact that you can’t deny.

Adapted from Arthur Golden’s best-selling novel of the same name, “Memoirs of a Geisha” is a simple story of how a poor girl blossom into a popular geisha, Sayuri. Many people perceived “Geisha” as prostitutes, in reality their roles are in the form of artists, musicians, companions all rolled into one. In this movie format, the Caucasian filmmakers tried their very best to flesh out this once popular Japanese profession to the audience worldwide. To be fair, nothing on earth can convey or replicate the exact historical past onscreen. Of course, conservatives might criticize “Memoirs” of being too simplistic, eye-candy to accurately portray the ongoings of that era however since the source material of Arthur Golden’s novel has not been spared either, one can’t really put the blame on this movie version.

For an actress who is not accustomed to English, Zhang Ziyi has improved leaps and bounds in the language. Again, there have been widely traveled comments about her forced, unnatural use of the language. But Zhang should be commended on her acting skills and effort as Sayuri. The role of Sayuri contain traces of Zhang’s career, from a pretty much-unknown drama student debuting in a Zhang Yimou’s movie, Zhang has brought herself to the glamourous Hollywood circuit. Just as in “Memoirs”, from a daughter of poor fishermen to a legendary geisha.

Besides Zhang Ziyi, “Memoirs” is peppered with a cast that includes “who’s-who’s” of the Asian film industry. Michelle Yeoh as Sayuri’s mentor, Mameha and Gong Li as Sayuri’s closest rival and Ken “The Last Samurai” Watanabe. Director Rob Marshall (from the award-winning musical drama “Chicago”) has drawn strong performances from the three female leads. Zhang and Yeoh who has since paired up for the second time after the hugely successful “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” displayed sizzling chemistry and with the addition of the great Gong Li, the tension and must-see factor is upped several degrees. Unfortunately, for Watanabe, restricted by his limited screen appearance and rather undefined role, little is know about his character at the end of the day except plainly being remembered vaguely as Sayuri’s lover.

Technically, nothing is spared in recreating the world of hanamachi (geisha district). From the lush set designs to the sprawling 1920’s buildings of Kyoto to the geishas’ kimonos, every single detail you can imagine is transferred on screen. Accompanied by John Williams’s (Yes, that composer who wrote the famous “Star Wars” and “Superman” theme) mesmerizing score and Yo Yo Ma’s cello, “Memoirs” is not a visual to the eyes but to the ears as well.

As mentioned earlier, the filmmakers never set out to document an accurate portrayal of the lives of geishas, instead “Memoirs” is a tale of unrequited love, and life struggle set in the backdrop of the mysterious world of geishas. Pretentious effort it is not, it’s just another highly viable commercial product from Hollywood. It should make your ticket’s worth. If all that fail, close your eyes and indulge in John Williams’s music and let your imagination brings you to the world of geishas instead.

Movie Rating:

(Gambatei! A triumph effort from the cast and crew of "Memoirs of a geisha")

Review by Linus Tee

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