225th Movie Review: Memoirs Of A Geisha (2005)

An enticing and interesting story with an awful conclusion.

[note: I haven’t read the book yet]

Memoirs of A Geisha is a perfect example of a movie that has lots of fascinating and memorable parts but also has some draggy and awful ones; but in the end, the good outweighs the bad.

In the years before World War II, a Japanese child (Suzuka Ohgo) is torn from her penniless 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 (Zhang Ziyi). Beautiful and accomplished, Sayuri captivates the most powerful men of her day, but is haunted by her secret love for the one man (Ken Watanabe) who is out of her reach. -from RottenTomatoes

In the beginning, Hatsumomo (Li Gong) takes advantage of the feeble and helpless Chiyo. As Chiyo grows and blossoms into a popular and beautiful geisha named Sayuri, the tides are turned and Hatsumomo becomes the one who envies her. That alone is a very intriguing part of the movie.

Her reason to become a geisha was empty at first, but as he meets the man (who is about 30 years older than her) who she’ll eventually fall in love to, everything changes and she dreams to become as beautiful as Hatsumomo herself.

I left some of the important parts of the story out, just in case you haven’t watched the movie yet. I also left a few characters out like the mother of the geisha house, the Baron, Sayuri’s mentor Mameha (Michelle Yeoh, who also starred with Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Pumpkin, and many others.

Well, let’s talk about the bad things first. I didn’t like the introduction. It felt rushed and it felt like they were saving time to keep the movie under 2 hours and 20 minutes. Some dialogues in English are hard to understand as the people try to speak English when it’s obvious from their heavy accents they’re fluent in Japanese. It could’ve been better if there were subtitles. For the sake of storytelling maybe? Also, is it possible that they have English teachers at the rural areas? I’m not trying to discriminate, I’m just wondering.

Now, let’s talk about the great stuff in the movie. First of all, Geisha’s are hot! Not to mention there were some very noteworthy kinky scenes, like when the mother of the Geisha house effortlessly reached under Hatsumomo’s kimono to check if there were signs of “sexual activity” going on in her privates. (and Hatsumomo’s expression was a killer!)

There was also a fine display of the preserved Japanese culture. It’s also nice to see how the Japs can integrate foreign influences within their culture, like how tuxedo clad businessmen can move about normally along the busy streets without looking all wierd and out of the ordinary; and that is something I’m quite jealous of as a Filipino.

Also, surprisingly, Ken Watanabe’s English was actually understandable, unlike when he starred in Inception where I absolutely couldn’t understand anything he’s talking about.

Now let’s talk about the story. The first 40 minutes of the movie was beautiful. The story of Sayuri’s childhood was interesting and compelling. The process of her becoming a geisha was fun to watch too, but the third half of the movie ended up being draggy. The film is lavishly made from start to finish but it sort of falls apart in the end. Like the momentum was lost all of a sudden.

I’m not gonna talk about the issue regarding Zhang Ziyi (a Chinese) taking the role of the Japanese Sayuri, as I believe that the controversy of this movie being orientalist doesn’t affect the actual content of the film. In fact, I thought it was Zhang Ziyi‘s best performance yet, right next to Crouching Tiger.

The whole cast was well-rounded and very nice to watch. Li Gong’s portrayal of the wicked Hatsumomo will certainly make the character one of the most evil villains out there. Ken Watanabe looked younger than his age, Michelle Yeoh was great in being Sayuri’s mentor, even Suzuka Ohgo, the child who played the young Chiyo (actually, she’s older than me), was stunning, just like her eyes. I hope soon Hollywood will recognize more Asian stars so that we can show our talents in the west!

Memoirs of a Geisha showed how women in the early days were oppressed and didn’t have freedom to live their lives that way they wanted to. In Japan, they are forced to become Geisha in order to live a life with less hardship. A harsh but true reality for the women of the past. Good thing we celebrate women’s rights today.

In the end, the movie fulfills its goal to be controversial. Most critics and some people may have not liked this as much as I did, but for me it’s one of the most fascinating movies I’ve ever seen, minus the third half.

The film is directed by Rob Marshall (Nine, Chicago, Pirates of The Caribbean 4)


I agreed with the minority

External Ratings:

Rotten Tomatoes: 35% Fresh, 5.4/10 Rating

Internet Movie Database: 7.1/10 User Rating

Metacritic: 54/100


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