Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) Review

Verdict: Exquisite

Amazing acting, directing, and mise-en-scene.


Sold by her father for money, Chiyo (Ohgo Suzuka) is taken to the city to work in a tea house run by the Matron (Fumi Akutagawa). There she befriends Pumpkin (Zoe Weizenbaum), and together they do the house chores. While out one day, she bumps into the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), and from then on, has kept him in her heart. Hatsumomo (Li Gong), a geisha who works for the tea house bullies Chiyo constantly, and ruins her initial opportunity to become a geisha. But Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) takes it upon herself to teach Chiyo – turning her into geisha Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi). Directed by Rob Marshall.

A combination of many nations’ talents, this exquisite film is both captivating and dazzling. Everything from the acting, directing, costumes, light, color, music, and cinematography is spot on, and leaves you with a reminiscent feeling.

The first thing that captured my attention, as well as took my breath away, are Ohgo Suzuka’s eyes. Maybe it is obviously color contacts (was it invented back then?) or some sort of color editing, but they really capture your attention. The striking color gives her a more innocent look, which could be what the filmmakers are counting on.

Going on from that, I am especially impressed by Ohgo’s and Zhang’s performance. Ah, maybe that’s why they wore color contacts, so it would be a direct link between the two actresses portraying the same person at different ages. Whatever the reason, they both gave electric performances and grasped their roles completely. While it is relatively easier for Ohgo to display innocence, Zhang does it equally well, that it is believable that they are the same person. My only regret is that I did not get to see more of Ohgo.

The rest of the cast did superbly in their roles as well. Li Gong and Yeoh brought the fieriness and elegance to their characters, respectively. Li Gong does a good jealous, and flaunting woman, who’s always bitter. Yeoh, who is Malaysian (#represent), does an amazing job at showing class, and this has got to be her most admirable work that I’ve seen.

The tone of the film, which is set from the very first scene, makes for an intense drama. I was predicting a sort of dark, heartbreaking story because of the tone. Though that wasn’t necessarily the case, it worked well throughout the movie. It helped to keep the intrigue there so that audiences would not drift off.

This was only possible with the right directing, costume and set designs, editing and cinematography. The attention to detail in this is extraordinary. I especially loved the cinematography led by Dion Beebe, which complemented well with the tense mood of the film. In addition, I enjoyed the multiple voice-overs, in which we would see a character talking and then the scene would change so that it becomes a voice-over. Very carefully crafted and beautifully edited.

Overall, a captivating historical drama, which also educates about an olden Japanese tradition (though I am unsure of the extent to which it is accurate). Having said that, the romantic line was a bit weird to me because of the age gap. I know age is just a number, but I don’t really like the idea of older men liking younger women, just because it gives me the impression that they are ‘dirty old men’. Though of course this does happen in real life, I’m just not sure of the ideology behind portraying it in a cultural film made from Western standards.

To sum-up:
PROS: Acting, directing, cinematography, mise-en-scene, editing
CONS: Liked to see more of Ohgo Suzuka, Romance gap

I give this a 9/10.

Have you seen Memoirs of a Geisha? Rate it out of 5 stars above or leave a comment below!


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