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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall has done some wonderful things to Arthur Golden's novel Memoirs of a Geisha. For starters he transformed the harrowing tale of a fishing village girl who became a celebrated geisha into a fine story of love in extremely difficult circumstances. The cinematography was stunning and the production design marvelous. And so was the musical score and editing (see "the blood in the river scene").

Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo) and her sister were sold to a patroness in a whoring district in Japan. Acquiring beautiful pair of eyes, Chiyo was destined to become a geisha but her determination to run away back home with her sister ruined everything for her. She was stripped of the privilege to enter a geisha school and instead was made a slave in a geisha home.

One fateful day she met a kind man simply called the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), who was enamored of her eyes. The man gave her a handkerchief which she dearly kept close to her heart in fervent wish that they meet again someday. A senior geisha, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), took notice of Chiyo's beauty and asked her patron that she study under her. Chiyo, now grown up (Zhang ZiYi), trained rigorously under Mameha's tutelage. Every day Chiyo, now called Sayuri, seemed a step closer to the man of her dreams but Mameha had other plans for her. When Sayurin told Mameha this, the latter replied that it was not for a geisha to choose whom to fall in love with, Sayuri was heartbroken.

Meanwhile, Hatsumomo (Gong Li), was doing everything she could to prevent Sayuri from becoming the top geisha. The Second World War broke out and Sayuri lost her chance to be with the Chairman. Then opportunity knocked again and an old time client, Nobu (Koji Yakusho), wanted her to return to her former profession. She only agreed because she wanted to continue her interrupted relationship with the Chairman.

The movie is a visual feast. The actors did their homework and flew high with flying colors. My only wish is that Rob Marshall could have made the love-angle between Sayuri and the Chairman more intense and two-sided. But that probably is understandable considering this is a memoir of the geisha and Marshall, I think, was avoiding a conflict of points-of-view. The ending was a bit on the corny side and abrupt. It looked like it was tacked on to explain some mysteries in the story. I'm sure someone who directed Chicago could have done better. I think the real challenge for him was to combine subtlely and grace into the main characters' dilemma without appearing too canned and formulaic.

The Fanatic Verdict: Watch it (at home).


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