During China's Tang dynasty the emperor has taken the princess of a neighboring province as wife. She has borne him two sons and raised his eldest. Now his control over his dominion is complete, including the royal family itself.
A loose adaptation of Hamlet, "The Night Banquet" is set in an empire in chaos. The Emperor, the Empress, the Crown Prince, the Minister and the General all have their own enemies they would like to finish off at a night banquet.
In 1929 an impoverished nine-year-old named Chiyo from a fishing village is sold to a geisha house in Kyoto's Gion district and subjected to cruel treatment from the owners and the head geisha Hatsumomo. Her stunning beauty attracts the vindictive jealousy of Hatsumomo, until she is rescued by and taken under the wing of Hatsumomo's bitter rival, Mameha. Under Mameha's mentorship, Chiyo becomes the geisha named Sayuri, trained in all the artistic and social skills a geisha must master in order to survive in her society. As a renowned geisha she enters a society of wealth, privilege, and political intrigue. As World War II looms Japan and the geisha's world are forever changed by the onslaught of history. Written by
When Sayuri discusses the conversation between Dr. Crab and Hatsumomo with Pumpkin, Pumpkin says 'I sat outside the door, but I could still hear them,' then later in the description she says 'Then the Doctor looked queasy, like he didn't want to hear any more.' If Pumpkin was sitting outside the door, she couldn't have seen the Doctor's face. See more »
Narrator (Old Sayuri):
It is not for Geisha to want. It is not for a Geisha to feel. Geisha is an artist of the floating world. She dances, she sings, she entertains you... What ever you want... the rest is shadows, the rest is secret.
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Arthur Golden's novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" deserved a better fate. This immensely satisfying book got a tepid adaptation by Robin Swicord and Doug Wright, and it begs for a better screen play than what was chosen to be shown on the screen. Director Bob Marshall's next venture after his successful and popular "Chicago" seemed, at least on paper, like the right candidate to be in command of the film version of the book, but what he has created seems to have become an oriental soap opera, at best.
The story is narrated in the first person by Sayuri who has been sold by their impoverished father. The novel is a chronicle of how Sayuri learns to become a geisha and her rivalry with the queen of them all, Hatsumomo. Also it is about the relationship between Suyuri and the Chairman. Hatsumomo's competition is the beautiful Mameha, who takes Suyuri under her wing and shows her the ropes. The Chairman and Nobu are the men in and out of this story who change Suyuri's life for the best.
The casting of Ziyi Zhang as Suyuri doesn't pay off. Ms. Zhang is a beautiful creature to look at, but in this film, her acting appears to be empty, in sharp contrast with her appearance in "2046". Gong Li, another beautiful woman, appears in all her fury to challenge her position as the queen that she has always been when Sayuri comes on her own. She is a caricature of the character that she is trying to portray, no doubt guided by the director, in a performance that seems campy in its flavor. Michelle Yeoh, Ken Watanabe and Koji Yakusho do what they can in a film where the center of attraction are Ms. Zhang and Ms. Li.
The basic flaw of the film is the dialogue that feels so foreign it might have been written in another language. The different accents of the cast doesn't help matters because they speak in a sort of British English that is a distraction. The wonderful costumes are by Colleen Atwood who dresses the women in silks and makes them look fantastic. The cinematography of Dion Beebe is an asset too. The haunting musical score is by John Williams, a man who knows how to enhance a film with the right sounds.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" under the direction of Rob Marshall is a spectacle directed to fans of the book, who will surely flock to see the film, but alas, they will not find the essence of Mr. Golden's novel in the finished product.
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