In the 1920s, 9-year-old Chiyo gets sold to a geisha house. There, she is forced into servitude, receiving nothing in return until the house's ruling hierarchy determines if she is of high enough quality to service the clientele -- men who visit and pay for conversation, dance and song. After rigorous years of training, Chiyo becomes Sayuri, a geisha of incredible beauty and influence. Life is good for Sayuri, but World War II is about to disrupt the peace.Written by
Just saw a Writers Guild screening. I feel like I just walked through a museum packed with gorgeous Japanese art and paintings of Japan (Kyoto), all set in motion. Rob Marshall has done it again. So have director of photography Dion Beebe and production designer John Myhre -- for the story is told as much through their work as the writers' and actors'.
Without revealing anything of the plot: The story unfolds gently, at a pace all its own, pulling you along its unexpected paths with a sense of mystery. Emotions simmer beneath the surface for a long time -- I felt a bit of distance from the characters for a long time, which seems quite intentional. This is how the geisha must live, emotionally distant. But this only serves to heighten the impact when emotions pour forth at climactic moments. Another director could easily fallen into the trap of melodrama. Thankfully Marshall never did
The experience of watching this film is mesmerizing. Not only is it beautiful, but the acting is terrific all around. I didn't want it to end. Can't wait to see it again to soak in the atmosphere and story more deeply. The use of color alone is worth studying closely. Later revelations paint certain characters in whole new lights, so I look forward to watching those performances again more omnisciently, to see nuances I'd missed.
Many epics have simple stories at their core, and while this story is ultimately in that vein, it plays against a grand backdrop of a little known world and fascinating historical period.
I must also mention the music. Beautiful. It does not sound at all like John Williams -- he lost himself in the place and period, and created a score of haunting simplicity that matches the visual beauty and evokes the world of the geisha. No grand orchestral melodies. It's all mood. Yo-Yo Ma's cello and Itzhak Perlman's violin are of course amazing, joined by traditional Japanese instruments (played by artists who did so from memory because they did not read the Western notation). Lovely blend of East and West.
BTW: After the screening, there was a Q&A with screenwriter Robin Swicord who generously spoke at length about the rewarding development and film-making process, working with Marshall, the production designer, the actors, etc., as well as discussing the novel and adaptation with author Arthur Golden. One key change Swicord made toward the end of the movie (without giving anything away) was something he said he wished he'd done, something it turned out he'd cut out of an earlier draft. Interesting.
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