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Geisha reveals culture, beauty

December 29, 2005

Tidings Reviewer

The film &

Memoirs of a Geisha&

is based on Arthur Golden&

s national bestseller of the same name, a book that has sold more than four million copies world-wide and garnered much praise. Clearly, there is a story here that touches a chord in the audience, making it ripe for a Hollywood adaptation.

A young girl, Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo), is sold by her parents to a broker who in turn sells her to an okiya, a geisha household, where she is to be the servant of Matsumono (Gong Li), a temperamental geisha. Chiyo grieves for her family, for her sister who was also sold with her, but was taken to a different household.

&

Memoirs&

is the remarkable story of her adjustment, and of one unforgettable afternoon when, still prepubescent, she meets a man on a bridge (Ken Wantanabe) not far from her okiya. He extends to her a kindness that changes her life.

Chiyo grows up and, because of her uncommon beauty, is chosen to begin preparation to be a geisha. She is watched over by an old crone who runs the okiya, and Matsumono, who soon regards Chiyo, now called Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), as a rival.

The geisha fulfills an unusual cultural role in Japanese society: they are regarded not as a wife and not as a prostitute, but as women who have turned the essence of social intercourse into an art form. They are trained in conversation, music, dance, and all of the ritualistic nuances required to entertain men of influence, wealth and power. When the moment is right, the geisha&

s virginity is sold to the highest bidder, and the price reflects her desirability and her accomplishments as a complete geisha.

&

Memoirs&

offers a window to a world that is profoundly culture bound and self-contained. How Sayuri survives in this cloistered world, especially as World War II begins and old Japan implodes, makes for compelling storytelling.

As well, &

Memoirs&

is beautifully photographed by noted cinematographer, Dione Bebe. There are moments when the scenes are so stunning, so beautifully rendered, that they almost overshadow the drama portrayed.

If there is one weakness in this film it is that most of the actors speak in English, which is for them a second language. Their accents can, at times, make their lines hard to understand and dilutes the impact of the scene. A solution would have been to have them speak in Japanese with subtitles; however, the fact is that many of the players, led by Ziyi Zhang, are not Japanese but Chinese.

&

Memoirs&

is rich and engaging and the performances are top drawer. Clearly, the challenge of this lush film is to tell a story that spans decades while capturing the essence Sayuri&

s life. It manages to do that and more.