film - Memoirs of a Geisha
3 / 5
Based on the bestselling book by Arthur Golden, and starring three of the top Chinese actors in the world, Memoirs of a Geisha weaves a love story while unravelling the mystical world of geishas, the seductive and entertaining paid dates for men in Japan. Rob Marshall (Chicago) directed and there's already Oscar nomination talk to go with its two Golden Globe nominations (Ziyi Zhang for Best Actress and John Williams for the score.)
I haven't read the book and as such, the appeal of the film isn't as strong as the best selling status would have made it,in my mind.
Two sisters are sold off, and one is accepted into a home for geishas. The top geisha (Li Gong, 1965) dislikes the new arrival (Ziyi Zhang, 1979) and attempts to thwart her as she progresses in her classes to become a geisha. She sees her as a future rival, but she is also projecting her anger on not being able to follow her heart and pursue an open relationship with the man she loves.
Not knowing a lot about geishas, they seem to be seductive dates and personal entertainers for high class men, predating lap dancers and escorts, but not being outright prostitutes, in most cases.
The love story takes place when our heroine, already sold to the geisha house, at age 9 is chanced upon by the businessman known as "the Chairman" (Ken Watanabe, 1959). Later on, unbeknownst to him, she becomes a top young geisha, while being positioned as a regular social partner for the Chairman's disfigured business partner, who happens to dislike geisha but takes a shining to her. Geishas aren't supposed to fall in love, but simply bring home money to the "house" and maintain as many clients as possible. They can be heavily desired but at the same time, can't give in to their feelings and longing for love. Therein lies the tradgedy.
I found this film to be neither fantastic but not awful, either. Part of it feels like a so-so love story wrapped up in beautiful, exquisitely filmed settings. You get to see how Japan changed after the war, with the influx of American culture and the dying off of the geishas. The acting is decent but overall, the film failed to draw me in.