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.
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
Spoiler: When Okaa-san says she wants to adopt Sayuri, which provokes Hatsumomo's anger, Okaa-san's cigarette keeps changing its own size, being at times totally consumed, and sometimes not. See more »
[to Pumpkin after she led the Chairman to Sayuri and the Colonel]
How could you? You don't know what you have done!
But I do.
I do not understand. Why did you have to bring the Chairman?
Because I know how you feel about him.
So Hatsumomo did teach you to be cruel.
A long time ago, you took something from me... the only thing I'd ever truly wanted... Well, now you know how is feels.
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Going into the film, I had worries with all the slamming critics have given, even though I didn't read all of them in details. However, I'm happy to say it turns out to be one of more satisfying movie experiences of the year.
First I echo the sentiment that the film is simply technically perfect. The retro-mood it created had me immensed in the world of geisha from beginning to the end. It's very 1930 Shanghai like. The music score isn't as haunting as the one in CTHD, but it is still masterfully composed and fits in the background very well. It's worth seeing for the big screen experience alone. The story also never dragged, as each of the three parts flowed nicely. I normally don't like voice-over, but here it really held the movie together and helped to move the story along.
As for the accents, the problem has definitely been exaggerated. I was expecting a lot of unpleasant broken English to be spoken, but they all sounded fine to good, not just from the most fluent Michelle Yeoh, but Ken Watanabe, Youki Kudoh (who plays Pumpkin) and other supporting casts. Gong Li had a few awkward lines at the beginning, and Ziyi had more and is the one who had to try the hardest, but both pulled off admirably and didn't hurt their performances in the process.
Talking about performances, I think almost all of them did well. It's much more of an ensemble piece, and I was especially impressed by the young Sayuri and Ken Watanabe.
The main problem I have is with character development. It is a Cinderella story at heart, but the good and evil are too clear-cut and lack dimension. I also want to see more ups and downs for the competition between Ziyi and Gong Li. Gong did all she could, but the script didn't allow her to be a worthy opponent. Except for some verbal back-and-forth between the two and a few dirty tricks from Gong, there was no reason to believe why she was the most famous geisha in Japan before Ziyi arrived.
In addition, the Mother character is over-the-top and didn't fit the emotional aspect the film quite well, although she did provide some comical moments. The big dance scene had excellent buildup, but the execution of the dance felt flat. It lasted only about 30 seconds, while doubling that and making it more mesmerizing would have made the whole middle act more effective.
These flaws didn't overshadow the fact that what was put on screen worked for me. Will I be willing to watch it again with friends? In a heartbeat. Will I recommend it to others? Definitely. With that in mind, I give the film an A-.
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