Sunday, February 20, 2011

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 9 out of 10
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Suzuka Ohgo, Ziyi Zhang, Li Gong, Michelle Yeoh
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Romance,
Runtime: 145 minutes

Young Chiyo's (Ohgo) life has not been easy.  When she is just a child, her father sells her and her sister Satsu (Samantha Futerman) into the sex trade to buy medicine for their terminally ill mother.  The girls are separated, with Chiyo being taken to a geisha house, and Satsu disappearing from her life.  Chiyo is abused by her caretaker Mother Nitta (Kaoiri Momoi), and by the house's head geisha Hatsumomo (Li Gong) who is jealous of Chiyo's unusual beauty.  Just when all seems lost, she is taken under the wing of Hatsumomo's bitter rival Mameha  (Yeoh), the greatest geisha in the district.  Together, they work to make Chiyo (now called Sayuri) the greatest geisha in Japan, with the hopes of winning Mother Nitta's inheritance from Hatsumomo.

Oftentimes, people will tell you that movie adaptations are never as good as the books they come from.  However, Memoirs of a Geisha is one of those films that defies all the rules.  Having both read the book and seen the movie, I can testify that the movie is better by far!  This is a very visual story; the glorious kimonos, the elaborate geisha makeup, and the glory that is pre-WWII Japan is something that just has to be seen!  The cinematography is brilliant!

The casting was absolutely perfect for this film, as well!  First, Li Gong was amazing as the bitter Hatsumomo.  Her character was devious, jealous, and yet still very human; at many points in the film, I found myself actually feeling bad for her, only to have her flash her darker, uglier side and completely lose my sympathies again.  Hatsumomo is the perfect antagonist; you pity her and yet you hate her.

Even though he was not a main character, I was completly enthralled with the character of Nobu (K├┤ji Yakusho), the dark, brooding friend of the Chairman (Ken Watanabe); Chiyo's main love interest.  Nobu has been scarred in an attempt to save the Chairman's life during the war.  Because of this deformity, he's incredibly distant emotionally, to the point where he becomes brusque and almost unapproachable.  However, under the tough exterior lies a much gentler man, and Nobu's shy attempts to show affection simply melted my heart!

Over all, a good movie, one full of interesting characters, beautiful scenes, and shocking plot twists.  Even during the slowest scenes, I was not bored, and I could feel myself being drawn into the story from the very first scene!  A must see for fans of Arthur Golden's book, those with an interest in Japan, or anyone who enjoys a good drama.

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