Last updated: March 23, 2019
Topic: ArtDesign
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Memoirs of a Geisha: Interpreting the Film


Rob Marshall’s movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”, based on the novel of Arthur Golden is a dazzling movie to watch. It has a touch of glamour, elegance, and beauty of a life of a Geisha. It portrays the life of Sakamoto Chiyo, known as “Sayuri”, Gion’s most celebrated Geisha.

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The story was set in Gion, in a geisha district in Kyoto, Japan. It was an artistic small district, with teahouses, theaters, and ornate temples.

The main cast of the movie were as follows: Ziyi Zhang as Sayuri, Youki Kudoh as Pumpkin, Ken Watanabe as Chairman, Kenneth Tsang as the General, Michelle Yeoh as Mameha, Eugenia Yuan as Korin, Karl Yune as Koichi, and Li Gong as Hatsumomo. The story revolves around these characters, Sayuri being the central character.

The story started when Sakamoto Chiyo and Sakamoto Satzu were sold by their father and dying mother to Mr. tanaka Ichiro. They were taken away from their village house. Chiyo was taken to Nitta’s geisha house in Gion while her sister was sold to a brothel. Chiyo earnestly searched for her sister. Chiyo learned from Hatsumomo, a beautiful but cruel geisha, where her sister Satzu was taken. But when the two sisters planned their escape something came up. Chiyo was prohibited from going outside the Geisha House. So, that night, she climbed the roof, but fell from it. As a punishment, she was trained as a maid, instead of a geisha.

Soon, while she was wandering around the district, she came across with the Chairman, whom she fell in love with. The chairman gave her a sweet ice and a handkerchief with coins in it. That started her dream to become a geisha so that she could be with the chairman.

Years later, when she was fifteen, Chiyo saw again the chairman in a tea house. She  went after Pumpkin to give her the musical instrument that was forgotten.  When she peeked through the screens of the teahouse, she saw the chairman who opened the screen.

Several days after, Mameha adopted Chiyo and named her ‘Sayuri’ and trained her to become a geisha. She became a protégé and an apprentice of Mameha. She was introduced to the Baron who was her Danna, the one who pays for the expenses of a geisha. Saiyuri learned every art of a geisha—from dance, music, elaborate make-up and hair, pouring of a kettle, wearing of kimono, and even seductive glances to lure men. Her first task was to lure a man on the bike, and she did that in just a single glance.

Sayuri learned fast. Her first encounter with the chairman as a geisha was when Mameha and she went to a Sumo Match. There she had had time with the chairman, the love of her life. But Hatsumomo, her rival, also went there with Pumpkin, and so Mameha instructed her to go to Nobu Toshikazu, a business partner of the chairman in order to fool Hatsumomo.

After Sayuri’s dance show, there was a bidding war for Sayuri (for her virginity). It was a war between Nobu and Dr. Crab. Dr. Crab was the highest bidder. After that, Sayuri became the most celebrated Geisha in Gion.

Hatsumomo, jealous of Sayuri, went to Sayuri’s room. Then, fight started. A candle was knocked over burned the geisha house. After that,  Hatsumomo sweared never to return again.

When World War II erupted, geisha houses were forced to close. The common people including Saiyuri were forced to live outside the city, that was, in the mountains, to escape the war. Years after, when the war was over, Saiyuri became a geisha once again. But when Nobu offered to be her Danna, Sayuri planned a scheme to prevent this. She seduced the American ‘Colonel’. Sayuri instructed Pumpkin to call Nobu to see her evil act. But then, Pumpkin called the Chairman instead. After hearing what happened, Nobu did not see nor forgive Sayuri again.

The story ended when the chairman and Sayuri met at the bridge. The Chairman disclosed that it was he who instructed Mameha to train a girl with a blue-gray eyes to be a geisha. All throughout , the chairman knew that Saiyuri is Chiyo. The story closed as a vivid recollection of Saiyuri’s life as a geisha.

The movie is a historical one with the theme of how love endures amidst war, betrayal, and time.  The story, too, depicted a different perspective of life, the way a geisha sees life, through the blue-gray eyes of Saiyuri. The genre of the movie is a combination of drama and romance.

The movie deserves the Academy Awards it garnered for Best Achievement in Art Direction, Cinematography, and Costume design. It also garnered award as Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Zhang Ziyi) for Golden Globe award. The lighting and musical scoring are excellent. The make-up and costumes were stylish, fit for a real Geisha. Though it  did not won Best director, the directing is outstanding.




Works Cited


Memoirs of a Geisha. Dir. Rob Marshall. Perf. Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, Li Gong,. Dec. 2005