The Japanese geisha have wowed wealthy businessmen with their stunning beauty and charm for centuries. Dancing, singing, and conversing with their clients is all part of the beautiful women’s job description. Used predominantly to entertain dinner or business parties, a man’s prestige is immediately heightened if he hires a geisha to entertain his guests.

At just nine years of age, Chiyo’s life is about to change forever. Because of her family’s financial difficulties, Chiyo’s father and mother sell her and her older sister Satsu to an okiya, a geisha training household. Thousands of these okiyas exist across the Japanese country, and each is ruled by a hardened ex-geisha, who is simply called, Mother.

Terrified and alone, Chiyo and Satsu arrive at their okiya to find Mother waiting for them. Immediately, Satsu is turned away because of her plain face and is sent to live in the pleasure district to become a prostitute. Chiyo, on the other hand, has beautiful blue eyes and shows promise, so she is allowed to stay and train.

Chiyo is looked after by the matronly Auntie and another geisha-in-training, named Pumpkin. Chiyo soon needs all the help she can get, as she becomes the target of the jealous geisha Hatsumomo. Fearing Chiyo may one day become greater than her, Hatsumomo tricks and frames Chiyo, nearly compromising Chiyo’s chances of becoming a geisha one day.

Chiyo’s luck soon takes a turn for the better, as two events shape her destiny. A businessman named The Chairman notices her one-day in the market, and the two strike up a conversation. He buys Chiyo a treat and wishes her good luck. His generosity wins Chiyo’s heart and she dreams of the two falling in love one day. Following that, a well-known geisha named Mameha asks Mother for permission to teach Chiyo how to become a geisha. Mameha sees Chiyo’s enormous potential and is convinced she is destined to be the greatest geisha Japan has ever seen.

Under Mameha’s wing, Chiyo learns rapidly and soon masters the art of a geisha. She soon takes a new name: Sayuri. Hatsumomo’s malice grows as Sayuri’s stardom increases. However, Sayuri continues to grow in popularity. Soon, a primary client named Nobu emerges. It is soon learned that Nobu’s business partner is none else than The Chairman.

As Sayuri blossoms, however, it becomes clear her personal desires are conflicting with the strict guidelines of a geisha. She is falling in love with The Chairman, but she is forbidden from being involved with any man because of her professional obligations. Any chance of a life with The Chairman is deemed impossible. However, the end of World War II soon tears the country of Japan apart and gives Sayuri a second chance at true love.

Memoirs of a Geisha gives an unflinching and at times painful look into the true story of the famous geisha Sayuri and her quest for a life of love. It can be difficult to watch at times, as it vividly portrays the horrors that these little girls had to endure at such a young age. There is one especially disturbing scene that is too graphic to describe in any detail, but people who have already seen the film should have no problem picking out which one I mean. The movie is set in a very different culture than ours and can be confusing at times, but the overall theme of the movie is clear to the audience by the end; no matter what, true love conquers all.

The acting in the movie is phenomenal. The relatively unknown actresses carry the complex plot beautifully, giving riveting and heart-wrenching performances. Ziyi Zhang is brilliant as Sayuri, capturing the longing of true love perfectly. What I did not like was that the movie was in English. I feel it would have been more effective had there been subtitles. Scenes towards the end of the movie with Americans and Japanese both make it especially awkward because it is obvious the two groups of people would not be able to communicate in reality.

Although the plot is complex and hard to follow at times, the audience is able to piece together the Japanese culture well enough to understand the movie. An explanation of what geishas are is never offered, and it took me too long to figure it out for myself. I found myself frustrated not being able to figure out what this girl was training to be. It would have been more helpful to me had there been an explanation.

Overall, however, the movie is phenomenal. The character performances are riveting, and it captures the essence of the miserable life of a geisha perfectly. It tends to be quite disturbing at times, but this element definitely helps the movie reach its full impact. It’s original, different, and quite good. I definitely recommend Memoirs of a Geisha. Four stars.

The Waynedale News Staff

Dillon Kimmel

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