More in-depth film festival coverage than any other website!
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.06%
Worth A Look: 18.06%
Average: 23.61%
Pretty Bad38.89%
Total Crap: 1.39%

7 reviews, 30 user ratings

Memoirs of a Geisha
[] Buy posters from this movie
by EricDSnider

"You'll learn more about geishas by reading the Wikipedia entry."
2 stars

Geishas are not prostitutes! Don't call them that, or they'll get mad.

That is what I learned about the mysterious geisha lifestyle in the film "Memoirs of a Geisha," a lengthy, soggy adaptation of a novel by Arthur Golden, a man who not only was never a geisha, but isn't even Japanese! (Then again, neither is most of the cast.)

It is directed by Rob Marshall, a Broadway choreographer/director who earned an Oscar nomination for his dazzling adaptation of "Chicago." How he has followed up that sure-handed work with such a dull, somber affair as this, I don't know.

Set in the 1930s and '40s in Japan, the film tells the story of a girl named Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo) who is sold to a geisha house upon the death of her mother. The young girls are given basic geisha training in their early years -- traditional dancing, singing, tea-serving, that sort of thing -- and eventually hope to become apprentices to the real geishas, and then onto full geishahood themselves.

Chiyo, 9 years old and possessed of piercing blue eyes (an oddity that is not explained), runs afoul of Hatsumomo (Li Gong), who flouts the geisha rules and disobeys the house "Mother" (Kaori Momoi) but is kept around because she brings in good money. (But NOT for being a hooker! They don't have sex with their clients! Unless they do. Which they sometimes do. But it's not required!) She tries to make Chiyo one of her minions, but Chiyo is too strong-willed to be bullied by the likes of Hatsumomo.

Some years later, Chiyo is renamed Sayuri and starts being played by Ziyi Zhang (who's as Japanese as I am). She's taken under the tutelage of Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), Hatsumomo's chief rival, and there is a good deal of cat-fighting and backbiting between the two geishas. Sayuri has always gotten along with Hatsumomo's apprentice, Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh), but now they are pawns in the rivalry between their mentors.

Through it all, Sayuri has a crush on a man called the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), a businessman whose partner, Nobu (Koji Yakusho), takes a particular liking to Sayuri. Sayuri is thus caught between her duty to Nobu (her client) and her feelings for the Chairman. Geishas are instructed not to fall in love, ever. But what's a girl to do?

The 1997 novel, which has been adapted by Robin Swicord ("Practical Magic"), underwent an arduous journey to the screen. At one point Steven Spielberg was set to direct it. Not to dwell on what might have been, but surely Spielberg would have introduced more heart and more intimacy into it than Marshall has done. Marshall has made a very sterile film, one where we spend a great deal of time with the characters without ever getting to know them -- or, really, what the life of a geisha is all about.

The three leads -- Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang and Li Gong -- perform nobly, almost breathing life into the turgid screenplay. Certainly they are dressed beautifully, and the movie is often lovely to look at, if nothing else.

An older version of Sayuri opens the film by narrating, "A story like mine should never be told." I think maybe she was right. If her story is going to be told, it should be told more passionately than this.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 12/21/05 11:53:28
[printer] printer-friendly format  

User Comments

11/25/13 Vanessa C. Beautiful movie and the story was great. 5 stars
8/15/13 Anon It was a great and well-moving story. 4 stars
6/02/11 Bethany Pairitz Very beautifully shot movie. I was pretty moved! 4 stars
12/16/09 A Girl pretty to look at but not much else 3 stars
10/23/09 Kae I loved this movie. At the end it is a tear gerker. 5 stars
1/17/09 Shaun Wallner Fell asleep to this one. 2 stars
1/10/09 Anonymous. i wish the film was as great as its cinematography. 3 stars
4/11/08 EMILIA One of my most fave movies ever! Love! Movie critic is mean and bored with life. 5 stars
3/07/08 mb beautiful movie. loved it. 4 stars
6/14/07 Angelica I love this movie! 5 stars
12/26/06 johnnyfog Can'!! Loved Gong Li as crazy evil psycho bitch 4 stars
10/06/06 Kara Not what I thought it was about 3 stars
6/18/06 Anastasia Jonson This movie showed me alot about Japan that I didn't know. Entertaining and educational. 5 stars
6/08/06 Lisa Extremely boring - didn't even bother to finish it. One out of five for the look of it. 1 stars
5/03/06 Ashley Hinz Who cares if most of the actors were Chinese? Flawed, but I loved it. 5 stars
4/06/06 Troy M. Grzych Best explanation about sex: Eel in the cave!! Excellent movie! 5 stars
3/24/06 jesika loved it loved it loved it- CAPTIVATING but u must read the book 1ST 5 stars
3/23/06 Meredith Harshaw Japan's so unlike Iran, where geishas were never out of the closet! 3 stars
3/08/06 Piz Chick flick where if you enjoyed the book, the movie does justice. 4 stars
2/02/06 Kankasaur 2010...6 Oscar nods to Rob Marshall's A Million Little Pieces, incl. James Frey's adaption. 5 stars
1/22/06 Musicianwriter Complaining about Chinese actors? Well, Broke Back used straight ones! Geisha is amazing! 5 stars
1/19/06 malcolm see it just for the talented and gorgeous Zhang Ziyi. very similar to "Kama Sutra: ..." 4 stars
1/11/06 Mansi Dido Zhang Ziyi excels (again) ! 4 stars
1/08/06 Sachiko The tradition of the Geisha IS still alive! The movie is extremely accurate. 5 stars
1/03/06 jcjs lovely, tender, colors, music, faces, water, ponds, story, romance, deception, love, life 5 stars
12/27/05 Chun Awkward orientalizing of a dead tradition 2 stars
12/26/05 bentable zZzZzZz 2 stars
12/26/05 Jonathon Holmes If I wanted to watch a soap opra, I would've stayed home and watched Laguna Beach on MTV! 3 stars
12/26/05 Agent DX Surprisingly good, despite bad reviews. 5 stars
12/10/05 Sergio Trite strory and painfully dull. Living death! 2 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  09-Dec-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Mar-2006



Directed by
  Rob Marshall

Written by
  Robin Swicord
  Doug Wright

  Zhang Ziyi
  Ken Watanabe
  Michelle Yeoh
  Gong Li
  Kaori Momoi
  Tsai Chin

Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About Australia's Largest Movie Review Database.
Privacy Policy | HBS Inc. | |   

All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast