Memoirs of a Geisha, A Film Review
Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge that I have read the novelization by Arthur Golden before viewing the movie; I had, in fact, read it before I even knew that a movie was in production. Nevertheless, I hold no bias towards what occurs in the movie versus what's written in the book. I understand that for a faithful adaptation it would have to be three hours or more long, to fully get the details and information out. I'd like to express my opinions clearly, and without bias.
My overall reaction: adoration. There wasn't a single thing about this film that disturbed me or had a distasteful feeling. I simply adored everything that was shown, from the music and acting right down to the cinematography. In the first sequences of young Chiyo, played by Suzuka Ohgo were very well done, yet heartbreaking because the audience is following her transformation from young innocent child to slave and servant. The brilliantly casted character of Hatsumomo, portrayed by Li Gong, had that perfect sense of cruelty and her villainish character brought something to the screen that even Lord Voldemort couldn't --- that sense of meanness that only exists in females, which is why I loathe and am awestricken by Hatsumomo in the book, as well as onscreen.
For each actor that played their parts, they played them beautifully and with such passionate grace. But there are two actresses that made this movie possible: the lovely and gorgeously talented Zhang Ziyi playing the main role of Chiyo (a.k.a. Sayuri, her geisha name), and the beautiful Michelle Yeoh, playing Sayuri's mentor Mameha. Their scenes together flowed absolutely perfectly, especially as Mameha is first giving lessons to Sayuri of how to sit/stand up like a trained geisha; it's a sort of graceful kind of comedy that I found myself chuckling during those scenes. Both actresses had splendid chemistry together onscreen that it was simply as if they actually were the transformed characters from the book itself. It seemed surreal to me, especially since I had read the book and envisioned it differently (as we all do when it comes to book-to-film adaptations). However, Ziyi and Yeoh played their roles almost effortlessly that I believed that they actually were their characters. Another performance I'd like to acknowledge is Youki Kudoh, who plays Pumpkin, Chiyo's friend, in the film. She gives a stunning performance and that ultimate betrayal in the end was done beautifully (and cruelly, too). She was almost a Hatsumomo-in-training, and would've been because Hatsumomo was her Big Sister.
The storyline of the film seems to conspire over Sayuri's journey to continue onwards with her training as a geisha in order to get close to the Chairman, played by Ken Watanabe. Although in the book there's lots more happening and more explanations, the movie really showed her desperation to want to see him again and for them to be together, despite the regulations of being a geisha. This truly is the romantic love story of 2005/2006 that shows that love can conjure all, even in the most extreme circumstances.
Another thing I'd like to compliment on the fabulous and absolutely gorgeous instrumental score soundtrack composed by John Williams. Beautifully crafted to fit the mood of the story, and the music is mixed with perfect soft tones and dramatic themes of the certain scenes. I would also like to comment on the usage of old Japanese songs in the film. This really places the authenticity to the story and what time period it is, especially with the introduction of Mother and her turning up the radio as Chiyo is getting switched out in the yard; I was impressed with this and admire it greatly.
My favorite scenes included as Sayuri is training and transforming into a geisha. The usages of the scenes, intersecting into one another, just that entire sequence really paced the transformation but also had a significance to what she had to go through. The time and energy, most of all patience, one has to go through in training to become a geisha. And the overall effect is magical with her stunning beauty; with Sayuri gazing at herself in the mirror, you'd think she hadn't recognized herself (and she hadn't for that moment, because with her who'd think she would one day become a walking view of art, admired by everyone and a figure of all men's fantasies?) I especially loved her training with the Japanese fans. Another scene I loved is Sayuri's performance onstage --- the music, the snow falling from the ceiling, just everything made her this gorgeous model of beauty. That was absolutely stunning. Of course, many people who study the art of what geishas go through say that the movie's representation of those performances aren't accurate. But who's going by accuracy, here? It's a fictional tale of love and romance, and about a young woman's journey to accomplish something in her life.
Also, I was delighted to hear Mameha describe to Sayuri of "the eel and the cave", which is a metaphor for the penis and the vagina. I remember reading that in the novel, and how explicit it was! It wasn't necessarily all revealed in the movie, but for those that want to read the book it'll be in there, description and all.
The one scene I cannot bare to watch again was when Sayuri is being undeniably raped. I kept thinking to myself, "Just push him away, Sayuri! Just knee him in the groin and get out of there!" But of course, by then she had become the most respectable geisha and desired by all men, and therefore if she'd refused she would disgrace herself of being a geisha. And it was Hatsumomo's idea for the man to allow Sayuri to his party, for she knew what he wanted of Sayuri. He loved beautiful women, as it is stated. Sayuri had become very desirable, so she was the vulernable target. It was difficult viewing it onscreen because she'd asked him to stop, but he didn't.
Nevertheless, I loved the Chairman and Sayuri reuniting in the very end, and for him to say her birthname, Chiyo, made it more adorable than ever. It was a relief moment, because with everything that Sayuri had to go through, it certainly was something that the audience could sigh and everything would be okay for her now, for it was the Chairman's kindness of the cruelty she'd experienced that kept her heart going, her hopes up. It was a sweet moment, and their kiss! Loved his passionate they were.
Overall: Again, adoration. Certainly things weren't exactly like the book, but the book discussed many things that would otherwise take up three or four hours to fully explain them all. I know that there were, and still are, controversies over Memoirs being made. Simply because they had Chinese actors portraying Japanese characters, and that apparently is a huge deal to some irrational people out there. Though I understand that between the two countries it is a huge deal, because Japan invaded China during the war and so there's bad blood between those two nations and so forth. However, I believe that the chosen Chinese actors gave a phenomenal performance, and that's what should be judged. Based on their performances and how well they do as the characters, NOT because of their different ethnicities.
Other than that, I adored Zhang Ziyi's performance, of course. And this adaptation was purely magical, and although the book is more detailed and explicit, the movie focused on Sayuri's main journey which was to be with the Chairman, and discovering what is really means to be a geisha. Definitely worth buying once it comes out onto DVD. So, there's my review. Stay shiny, everyone!