Memoirs of a Geisha
Director: Rob Marshall (Chicago)
Writer (novel): Arthur Golden
Screenplay: Robin Swicord
Producers: Lucy Fisher, Steven Spielberg, Douglas Wick
Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, KŰji Yakusho, Kaori Momoi, Youki Kudoh, Gong Li, Kenneth Tsang, Suzuka Ohgo
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 145 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

     Better than I thought. My expectations were through the floor for a few reasons: one, the Tomato meter on this one is at about 35%. Two, period pieces tend not to be my cup of tea. And three, films taking place in Japan with entirely all Japanese characters should not be in Engish. This film desperately needed to be in Japanese with subtitles. The actors were grasping for words and there were times where I couldnít quite understand what was being said exactly.

      Memoirs of a Geisha is exactly that - a story as told by a young girl, Chiyo, who is ripped from her home and split from her family and basically sold into slavery. From slavery to finishing school to become Geisha; a term used to describe the ultimate call girl. Geisha do not simply have sex with their clients. They are raised to be proper, educated, witty, musically-inclined servants and entertainers for those that pay the right price. Chiyo learns the hard way on how to become Geisha. She is forced to compete against other students and do the bidding of already accomplished Geisha who are sometimes mean-spirited, harsh, cruel and tempermental authority figures.

      As the girl grows and becomes more experienced and wise, a competing Geisha house mother takes Chiyo under her wing to sculpt her into the greatest Geisha of all time. Love is forbidden for a Geisha and this presents complicated problems which are explored in the story (remind you of another elite group of trainees?). Besides that, the war is approaching, and the Geisha, not to mention the entire town, could be doomed to destruction and death.

      The story of love, loss and hard-ship is not always a pleasure to watch, but it's definitely compelling and you'll spend two hours feeling sorry for this young girl who is forced to do things she doesn't always want to do. A simple act of kindness from a strange man gives her hope to become something great, but he is also the one man that could be her undoing.

The hypnotic and amazing Gong Li
      The art direction and costume design deservedly won their Oscars. Everything is spectacularly beautiful. Even the places that are supposed to be dirty and confined seem bold and stunning. The country side is gorgeous to look at and peering over the edge of a building we see a small, mid 20th century, Japanese city hustling and bustling with people and jinrikshas. Inside that building are various rooms with scribblings and Japanese lanterns adorning the walls. One almost feels that as cruel and sad as the inside of the building is, it would be a nice place to visit (assuming youíre not one of the slave girls). Even the lighting at certain key sequences are artfully done with so much expression that you canít help but be almost transfixed by the dance of light and bright, bold colors on the screen.

      The performances were all well done. As I said before, the odddity of English in a place like this is what really brought this story away from authenticity for me and I think it may have hindered a couple of performances. It probably wonít bother most, but I really had a problem with it. At times I felt like I was watching a foreign film with the American over-dubbed soundtrack on. Putting that aside though, I loved all of the performances; every single one. Especially the little girl who plays Chiyo, Suzuka Ohgo. Her cute little face and the horrible pain she expresses through those bright blue eyes was done very well for a little girl. My other favorite role was that of Hatsumomo, played by Gong-Li who I really thought had a chance to be up for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards. A beautiful, but fantastically mean-spirited, jealousy ridden, competing Geisha. She really brought drama and antagonism to the story. I hope to see more of her soon.

      John Williams creates magic once agan with his very relevant and powerful score. I swear this guy can do it all. There's a reason he's nominated for an Oscar every single year. He was nominated twice this past year for two films, and "Memoirs of a Geisha" was one of them. His ability to use any type of style amazes me constantly and his use of an Asian feel for this score is both powerful and noticably important. I rarely mention a score in my film reviews, so when I do, you know it's something special.

      Be prepared for depression through beauty. Nothing ever is good as this story unfolds, except the scenery, costumes and lighting. As depressing as everything is, there are hints of hope sprinkled throughout and I admit I found myself plunged into the emotional hope of the story. It does run a bit too long and some minutes couldíve been shaved off here and there, but I enjoyed myself enough to recommend this film. If youíve seen the trailer and you think this movie is not for you, youíre probably right, but it is better than it looks and better than I thought it would be. Since many of the positives of this film are visual in context, the DVD might not be quite as compelling as the big screen version, but I still recommend giving this film a chance if what you see in the trailer interests you at all.

Official Site
IMDb - full cast and crew info and more
TRAILER - in Quicktime