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Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

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Nitta Sayuri reveals how she transcended her fishing-village roots and became one of Japan's most celebrated geisha.

Director:

Rob Marshall

Writers:

Robin Swicord (screenplay), Arthur Golden (book)
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2,498 ( 645)
Won 3 Oscars. Another 29 wins & 48 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Suzuka Ohgo ... Chiyo
Togo Igawa ... Tanaka
Mako ... Sakamoto
Samantha Futerman ... Satsu
Elizabeth Sung ... Sakamoto's Wife
Thomas Ikeda Thomas Ikeda ... Mr. Bekku
Li Gong ... Hatsumomo (as Gong Li)
Tsai Chin ... Auntie
Kaori Momoi ... Mother
Zoe Weizenbaum ... Young Pumpkin
David Okihiro David Okihiro ... Shamisen Teacher
Miyako Tachibana Miyako Tachibana ... Dance Teacher
Kotoko Kawamura Kotoko Kawamura ... Granny
Karl Yune ... Koichi
Eugenia Yuan ... Korin
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Storyline

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 Jwelch5742

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for mature subject matter and some sexual content | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Japanese

Release Date:

23 December 2005 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Memorias de una geisha See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$85,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$682,504, 11 December 2005

Gross USA:

$57,490,508

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$162,242,962
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Ziyi Zhang and Li Gong, who play rivals Sayuri and Hatsumomo, are good friends in real life. See more »

Goofs

During the fight between Sayuri and Hatsumomo in Sayuri's room a crew member walks through the left side of the shot. See more »

Quotes

Sayuri Nitta: I am not worthless!
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Notes on Craft: Structure (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

Ginza No Yanagi
(1932)
Music by Shinpei Nakayama (as Shimpei Nakayama)
Lyrics by Yaso Saijô
Performed by Fumiko Yotsuya
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
A tantalising taste of something it's not
6 January 2006 | by Chris_DockerSee all my reviews

It would be lovely to find a beautiful verse for the spirit of a Geisha's Memoirs.

The butterfly is perfuming - It's wings in the scent - Of the orchid.

This haiku (a 17 syllable epigrammatic verse) by one of Japan's greatest poets (Basho Matsuo) seems at first glance to have little to it. So runs much of Japanese art, perfected to painstaking rules, yet requiring a degree of learning simply to appreciate, soul-piercing when understood. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we must be forgiven for expecting a glimpse, some aid to understanding, some hint of passion, for the difficult-to-fathom and obscure world of Japan, of geisha, representatives of artistic excellence and recipients of passionate devotion, and maybe some reference to what was a less glamorous side to their institution (and one personified in the Western stereotype).

The filmmakers went to considerable lengths - top Asian actors, a decorated director and cinematographer, music by the multi-accoladed John Williams; and the film follows on from the hugely successful novel. So does it stand up?

Firstly, it is visually stunning, not only with rural and urban scenery rarely seen in the West but with impressive use of colour and lighting. In one scene, as Sayuri makes her debut in a leading part at the theatre, we are treated to a fabulous dramatic entrance suggesting classical posture and make-up. It is the bright lights and fast cameras that director Rob Marshall used to such effect in Chicago. We follow a young girl from the time she is sold by her parents, through her apprenticeship and graduation as a geisha, and then through the onset of war and its aftermath. It has the exotic appeal of, say, the King and I or other successful movies that use an unknown culture to bring spice to a simple love story. It will delight many audiences. But as anything more serious it plummets as fast as a wingless bird.

Although there are moments of tension, such as the theatre performance, the sumo wrestling match or the jealous rage of a competitor geisha, much of the pacing (especially in the first third) is lacklustre, like someone telling a story at a continuous speed (much of the background is told in voice-over). Opportunities for dramatic excitement are easily missed with such a format. Telling the story takes much time: there is little left for character development, so it is hard to identify with the pain and triumphs of even our heroine.

A very modest brush with Japanese culture shows this movie lacks authenticity in its most crucial aspects. You cannot cast a film star in a part that requires a lifetime study or the equivalent of a university degree without considerable technical finesse. It would be like asking Richard Gere to dance a couple of scenes from Nureyev. But it gets worse. Everyday details are sloppy and unreflective of Japanese culture. Most obvious perhaps, the make-up employed by the film's 'geisha' is instantly recognisable as quite ordinary, not the sort that takes hours to apply.

In A Beautiful Mind, director Ron Howard took a mysterious subject (mathematics) and made it exciting to non-mathematicians. Other directors have dealt similarly with obscure arts or strange worlds and let us glimpse hitherto unknown regions, often adding a love story for good measure. Producer Steven Spielberg however, (in the film's production notes) confesses to a different objective: "I was very moved by the love story, by the rivalry . . . and by the test of friendship." Japanese culture is mentioned only in passing. The aim was not to introduce us to something new but something that's "relevant to people in every county."

They gave up before they started. Instead of highly developed Japanese traditions, we get lowest common denominators, and even the 'love story' fails to pass muster as the context (a society in those days of arranged marriages) is imperfectly explained. It could be in America – just change the country, add a mix of oriental costumes and languages, plus homage to a well-known book (and lots of highly paid talent that sadly lacks artistic integrity) and you have a winning Hollywood formula.

It is one thing to 'include' lurid details such auctioning a maidenhead – it is another thing altogether to miss the main point.

But has the movie really missed such an opportunity? It might be worth examining, even to see if this film is actually an insult to Japanese culture.

Ancient Japanese entertainers would perform for the nobility and some females even became concubines to the emperor. The first female geisha were simply dancers or musicians. They soon became popular enough to be able to steal clients from courtesans. They flourished as artists and entertainers and soon became fashion leaders – a bit like western 'supermodels.' In today's Japan, geishas are accorded considerable respect for their accomplishments and what they represent. Being in the presence of a geisha is a remarkable experience – as if royalty had suddenly walked into the room, one feels thrown against the wall with a sense of awe. A man simply seeking a beautiful courtesan or a mere hostess could find one at a fraction of the price.

Memoirs of a Geisha is a tantalising taste of something it's not. It neither informs nor satisfies, but entertains sumptuously if simplistically. It will please many less discerning audiences as well as critics or award voters who review a movie by means of DVD – it has a lush play of colour that will transfer to the small screen together with a low attention-span requirement that allows you to make the coffee. But it is about as far from the memoirs of any geisha as the instant coffee will be from the beautiful ritual of the Japanese tea ceremony. The film, like a Japanese haiku, doesn't seem to have much to it: unlike a Japanese haiku though, it really doesn't.


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