Writer: Helena HonWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast:
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You could say that it would take an Asian to relate to Asian more than a Westerner ever could, yet Arthur Golden, author of bestseller novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" managed it well. Later, director Rob Marshall, through his keen artistic eye, superbly brought Golden's work to life, conveying empathy with the Asian culture through gripping drama and spellbinding cinematography.
The film, tight from the beginning, opened with a sequence of a turbulent sea in a dark and stormy night. An impoverished fisherman with a dying wife sells his two young daughters to a procurer for an okiya (geisha house). Very quickly, the two girls Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo) and her sister Satsu are separated, the former to a geisha house while the latter is sold to prostitution.
Facing hardships and challenges in the form of rival geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li) and craving the affection of an influential Osaka factory owner called the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), the grown-up Chiyo (Zhang Zi Yi) somehow became an apprentice to legendary geisha Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), who transforms her into the most sought-after geisha in town.
Such are the rigours of geisha life and such is the premise of this heart rending film. At once tragic, but romantic, erotic yet suspenseful and full of melodrama, "Memoirs of a Geisha" is a Hollywood wonder, presenting an impressive set (built apparently on a California ranch!) complete with wholly believable 1930s hanamachi rooftops, paper lanterns, formal tea houses and crowded alleyways.
Ken Watanabe discards his "Last Samurai" sword to provide tender and tragic dimensions to his side of unrequited love while Michelle Yeoh presents a regal yet well-earthed Mameha. Zhang Ziyi is captivating as Sayuri but the two who make the film most riveting are Suzuka Ohgo as little Chiyo and Gong Li as the venomous Hatsumomo. Eleven-year old Ohgo, who has a lovely smile, is a natural, able to emote with the intensity of an adult, while Gong Li, totally electrifying in all the scenes she appears in, is the only one of all the adult female leads to display fire in her eyes and through her expressions in her struggle with her inner demons.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" is a film that could be watched several times over, first for the overall feast it gives the senses, then for the fine details that make it the lovely classic that it is.Cinema Online, 23 September 2008