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Memoirs of a Geisha

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // September 25, 2007
List Price: $28.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Matthew Hinkley | posted September 26, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

I never got the chance to see "Memoirs of a Geisha" in theaters. I just didn't have time, and you know how it promise yourself you will see it and then time slips by and you completely miss it. I really enjoyed director Rob Marshall's "Chicago" and had high hopes for "Memoirs." I began to worry though after hearing of all the fairly poor reviews, but that was all put to ease after I finally got to watch "Memoirs" on this Blu-ray release.

At a very young age, Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo/Ziyi Zhang) is pulled from her home on the coast of Japan and sold into slavery in the city of Kyoto. Chiyo is immediately put to work in a geisha house, under the cruel rule of Mother (Kaori Momoi) and jealous geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li). With her family gone she has no where to look but to the geisha ways, which are confusing and mystical to her. While sadly running some errands, a kind man stops to buy her sweets and cheer her up. This Chairman (Ken Watanabe) is accompanied by two elegant geisha and his kindness makes Chiyo finally believe in herself. Her one goal in life becomes to break free of her fishing-village past to become a geisha. She prays to meet the kind man again when she is a trained geisha, hoping for him to return her love.

Fast forward several years, Chiyo is finally beginning her geisha training. She has been handpicking by Memeha (Michelle Yeoh), the most successful geisha in Kyoto, as her apprentice. As Chiyo learns the art of conversation, music, entertaining, and dance, she is transformed into the graceful and beautiful geisha Sayuri, the new star in the geisha world. As she begins working and entertaining, she meets the Chairman again and Sayuri attempts to build upon their first meeting and turn it into the romance she desires. When Word War II erupts, life changes for everyone. At the end of the war, Sayuri must decide what is important in life, love with the Chairman or keeping the traditional geisha ways alive.

"Memoirs of a Geisha" is truly a love story at its core. Based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Golden, it is the trying tale of a young girl stripped of everything and then seeing her amazing transformation into one of Japan's most celebrated geisha. "Memoirs" is a fascinating story...the press ridiculed it for its missing plot points and complicated story-line, saying too much material was packed into a two-and-a-half hour movie. Be that as it may, it was a beautiful view of what the life of a geisha was like in Japan and it sure didn't stop me enjoying this glimpse into a forgotten world or from believing that there is more to it. No, it was not perfect and it had some slow moments, but I was still absolutely drawn into the story the entire length of the film. "Memoirs" is a brilliant piece of art that wonderfully depicts the geisha life, and reminds us that no matter how bad things might be going...there is always hope.

Director Rob Marshall puts his heart and soul into this film. The amount of scouting and background work they did to make "Memoirs" an "accurate" film about geisha is astonishing. Before seeing this movie, I honestly thought that geisha were merely prostitutes and nothing more. This obviously is not the case, and Marshall easily paints a glorious picture of a geisha's true talent, art, and the beauty of life.



I'm going to start off by telling you that "Memoirs" has a lot of dark moments. Yes, there is detail loss when the film is dark, but at least the blacks are spot on. The dark areas do a fantastic job of creating mood and emotion. I think this is one of the most overlooked things about the video quality in "Memoirs." The dark, dreary areas in this film are intended to be this way, and actually cause you to look more closely. The skin tones are very nice and warm, and the colors are top notch. When we are presented with daylight our eyes are hit with every wonderful color in the rainbow, perfectly displayed with just enough contrast to pop and make you rewind to make sure what you just saw was real.

I think the one thing that makes "Memoirs" stand out is the cinematography. This is what carried me through the film as I watched each scene unfold. The camera work is done with such ease, that I honestly felt like I had been there. Every scene was meticulously set up and shot to feel as if we were there, peering into Sayuri's life...and it worked! Sure there are some times when there might be a couple too many "slow" motion scenes, but it really didn't bother me as I wanted to see each and every detail that Marshall was willing to show me.


Here we get a 5.1 Dolby Digital track that really does a great job. The surrounds are filled with raindrops, or diffuse chatter in the background. The dialogue is perfectly even, all the way from Sayuri whispering as a child, to a booming soundtrack with mild vocals in the background. Speaking of the soundtrack...the score was incredible. Each song moved the scenes along and set up the gorgeous cinematography.


First off are several features...all of which are short and to the point. The features consist of cast and crew interviews, most of which are filled with crew and just some cast input. I am going to just outline you on what they were already know that each one is short.

Sayuri's Journey: From the Novel to the Screen: This is exactly how it we learn the struggles of adapting "Memoirs" from the novel and getting it ready for the big screen.

The Road to Japan: This is kind of a cool feature where we learn about the crew's journey to Japan as they scouted locations for "Memoirs." Geisha Bootcamp: Here we learn the art of a geisha, and the training the cast went through in order to look, act, and become a geisha.

Building the Hanamachi: This is a cool feature about the creation of the Hanamachi (the city they used). They actually explain how they physically built their own city to use as a location.

The Look of a Geisha: A feature about creating what Marshall thought a geisha should look like. Yes, they used real geisha to help them, but Marshall wanted it to be prevalent that geisha were a fashion statement in their day, and to modernize their look for today's audience.

The Music of "Memoirs:" Here we go behind the scenes of creating the score for "Memoirs."

A Geisha's Dance: We get to learn about the choreography behind the dance of a geisha and watch the cast train over and over to perfectly nail the routines.

The World of the Geisha: A "real-life" look at what a geisha is and what they do.

The Way of the Sumo: A look behind the scenes of Sumo.

Director Rob Marshal's Story: A look at Rob Marshall and his way of creating a film and bringing it to life.

A Day with Chef Nobu Matsuhisa: Here we look into the life of renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa and his daily duties.

Photo Galleries: Here we get two photo galleries, one focusing on Behind-the-Scenes and one on Costume Illustrations.

Chef Nobu's Recipes: Three of them to be exact.

Commentary with Director Rob Marshall and Co-Producer/Choreographer John DeLuca: This commentary track is quiet slow. Marshall is very soft spoken almost entirely throughout, so make sure to turn up your volume. Being so soft spoken, he somehow still dominates the commentary (DeLuca doesn't talk nearly as much as Marshall does). This makes a fairly dull commentary as Marshall talks so quietly that it kind of becomes boring as we listen to him speak about some good details about characters, cast, crew, scenes...everything about "Memoirs."

Commentary with Colleen Atwood (Costumes), John Myhre (Production Designer), and Pretro Scalia (Editor): These three do a nice job filling us in on what the previous commentary might not have. They all do a good job of chiming in and telling us about their roles, experiences, and details about the film.

Both Commentaries are really for die-hard fans only, and if you watch just one, watch the latter.

Final Thoughts:

"Memoirs of a Geisha" certainly didn't get the good attention it deserved. There was quite a bit of negative press, but despite only hearing bad, I highly enjoyed "Memoirs." The acting was good, the cinematography was stunning, and the score was near perfect. Add a fantastic audio and video transfer and you have a dang good movie. Yes, I understand that some people will be bored, and maybe lost with some of the plot holes, but please, watch this one and decide for yourself if you can believe in the vision that Marshall brings to "Memoirs." I Recommend this to anyone who hasn't seen it...and if you are like me and have seen it and enjoy it...get out there and pick it up.

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