Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Before I saw the film, I thought that a Geisha was sort of like a prostitute, so I feared that this would be yet another film about female victims of the "patriarchy".  Thankfully, it was not.  It was more like everyone being victims of the rigid traditional customs that must always be followed in traditional Japan.  But the film does not point a finger or swim in a victim mentality.  It just tells a story.

It is the story of a young girl (played by Suzuka Ohgo), who was ripped from her home in a poor fishing village and sold into a Geisha house.  Geishas were entertainers and companions.  Wealthy men would pay the Geisha house for a companion for the evening.  They would then go out to the theatre or a sports event and make pleasant conversation.  Geisha were educated in the arts and in the art of conversation.  They were accomplished dancers and entertainers.

So a Geisha is nothing like a prostitute.  In earlier times, Geisha were mostly men.  This was a little like the court jester tradition of medieval Europe.

"Memoirs of a Geisha" is really a story of unrequited love.  The strict rules of life for a Geisha make such romance quite impossible and this creates the struggle throughout the film.

As a girl, Chiyo endures considerable suffering, particularly during the first half of the film, but we should remember that Japanese boys in this same time period suffered also.  This was a time when teenaged boys were brainwashed into flying suicide missions into American warships.  Japanese solders were ordered to fight to the last man and even commit suicide before capture.

The film was gorgeous and really should be seen at the theatre rather that on a TV set.  The beauty of the scenes at times seemed more interesting than the plot.  The plot was fair, but not entirely riveting.  My wife and I yawned a few times about 2/3 way through.

I am told that the film is very similar to the book, but of course the book is better.  Many people think that "Memoirs of a Geisha" is a true story and even an autobiography.  Actually it is a work of fiction and was written by an American man, Arthur Golden.

Japanese viewers point out many inaccuracies in the film, but as a Westerner, they did not bother me.

Some would call this film a "chick flick", but actually it was quite good.  I learned something about Japanese culture, enjoyed the scenery, and was moved at times by the story.  This was not the best movie of the year, but I would recommend it.
                                       - Reviewed by Paul G.

Rated: PG-13 in USA, 12A in UK, & PG in Canada for strong violence.
Duration: 2 hours 25 minutes
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