Set in Japan around the turbulent World War II period, Memoirs of a Geisha is the story of a geisha named Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi). Sold off by her poor parents to an okiya (geisha house), she is put into training to become a geisha. When she gets on the wrong side of Hatsumomo (Gong Li), the geisha of the okiya, she is made the servant of the house. In the midst of her troubles, she meets a man called the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), who comforts her. Luck changes for Sayuri when Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), a bitter rival of Hatsumomo, buys her off and trains her as a geisha. Sayuri learns well and debuts as a successful geisha. Just when her dreams are coming true, Japan gets embroiled in World War II and she is sent to a distant rural province. When she returns back after the war, Japan has changed. The cities are filled with American soldiers, businessmen and geisha has turned into a lecherous word. Sayuri tries to gain a footing in this world while looking to win the heart of her Chairman.
Directed by Rob Marshall, this movie is based on a book of the same name. Though I had seen Japanese women dressed as geisha during my visit to Kyoto, I must admit that I was confused about their profession and role in Japanese society. The movie clears the air, portraying them as they were in traditional Japanese culture: female entertainers. The movie draws on the fantastic Asian female trio: Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh, each owning every one of their scenes. The same goes for the males, with riveting performances by both Ken Watanabe and Koji Yakusho. The most striking feature of the movie is undoubtedly its cinematography. There are some unforgettably stunning scenes here, like young Sayuri running through a temple gateway and the climactic scene set in a Japanese garden in spring bloom. The scenes are well complemented by a moving score by John Williams. There are some melancholic cello pieces played by Yo Yo Ma that should not be missed. On the downside, the movie is quite long, feeling much like an old Bollywood movie. Memoirs of a Geisha takes the viewer back to a magical place and time in Japan and this experience is not to be missed!