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Memoirs of a Geisha – Review March 13, 2009

Posted by Cello in Domestic Film Reviews.


Famous film reviewer, Roger Ebert, once said that he suspected that the more you know about Japan and movies, the less you will enjoy Memoirs of a Geisha. I can see his point of view given the fact that controversy over the casting of Chinese actors in lead roles were the first of many obstacles to stand in the way of a trouble-free production. The decision to hire an all Asian cast, and then to have them speak in English with Japanese accents, might have been the final nail in the coffin.

This film, based on the novel by Arthur Golden, unfolds from the perspective of Chiyo (played by Ziyi Zhang), a girl who, at the age of nine, is sold to a geisha house in Kyoto in the early 1930’s. Here she learns that becoming a geisha can be the single path to wealth and independence for a woman.


Memoirs of a Geisha is very much like Cinderella in Japan. She becomes the most celebrated performer in the land, enchanting the Chairman, his business partner, and countless men besides, eventually selling her virginity in an elaborate ritual that claims a record price. Like many big budgeted films, there is an overabundance of story and a deficit of characterization. In Geisha, the filmmakers have the daunting task of cramming a 500 page novel into a two and a half hour film. Even with huge cuts to the novel’s story, there is still nowhere near enough time to allow subtext to take root. The first casualty, as often is the case in adapted novels, are the characters.

Those minor nit-picks aside, Memoirs is absolutely breathtaking in execution, it’s no wonder why Marshall is so admired in the movie-musical world. The director has taken everything he knew about stage production to create a beautiful world in which the story can blossom. It’s rare to see a narrative so dependent on its environment, because without it, the film would not have succeeded in making the audience believe. This gets a slot on my blog for the sheer fact that it is a decent love story with exceptional visuals that you can demo on your HDTV on Blu-Ray [which is on sale for $14.99 at the time of this review]. It’s worth a look and it comes Slightly Recommended.


1. KG & Stuff - March 13, 2009

I heard so many pros and cons about this movie. I was close to purchasing the DVD since it was on sale, I was on the phone with Kevin at the time. He had mention some of the things you wrote above.
And it made me not go thru the purchase.

I’m personally not a fan movies being translating (voice overs) or having the actor speak in a heavy accent. It’s hard to understand, overall if subtitles are needed I don’t mind at all!

I don’t think I will give this movie a try.

Thanks for the review, I’ll keep it in mind if I ever bump into this one. 🙂

2. Heather - March 16, 2009

I’ve been told not to read the book, but see the movie first and then I’ll appreciate it more. Seems like there is much good and bad to be seen here.

3. gaguri - March 20, 2009

The movie was pretty but its emotional content didn’t really speak to me. There was one particular amazing scene that is still burned into my mind, it involves the little girl running through a Torii tunnel. It was mesmerising. There were also other moments of brilliance, for example, the scene where the girl was dressed pure white, and completely captured men around her. And also the part where she nearly was raped. Anyway, the movie had ups and down, but overall a recommendation from me too I guess!

4. joyturner - March 20, 2009

Ugh, I hated this movie. I’m Japanese and the only thing I could concentrate on was how the the main charachter and her teacher both have Chinese accents. They didn’t even try! Lol, why couldn’t they just pick a Japanese actress considering everyone with minor roles in the movie were Japanese.

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