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Memoirs of a Geisha (2005, Rob Marshall)

Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautifully composed adaptation of the 1997 best-selling novel of the same name. Presenting the first person perspective of the novel’s principle character, Rob Marshall utilises beautifully rendered cinematography in a manner that presents this sweeping romance as an epic story of fame and love. Exquisitely framed and expertly designed, the sets and locations account the story of Chiyo Sakamoto as she is uprooted from her impoverished family and thrust into the turbulent and illustrious life of a Japanese Geisha. Set during the time immediately before and after World War 2, Marshall opts to utilise framings and compositions that highlight the beautiful nature of traditional Japanese culture.

Although the film retells the childhood of Chiyo, for audience exposition, the film comes into itself while acclaimed Chinese superstar Zhang Ziyi portrays the character. Where the young actresses previous roles have involved violence and swordplay, Memoirs of a Geisha allows for a more elegant approach to be taken in personifying the inexperienced Chiyo. Known now as Sayuri and supported by the more experienced Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) in the art of her craft, Chiyo garners a large amount of acclaim from the Japanese society in which she works. With a rise in popularity, her rivalry with Hatsumomo (Gong Li) causes rifts that threaten her whole lifestyle. Desperate to win the affection of a handsome businessman (Ken Watanabe) who imposed himself upon her at a younger age, Sayuri attempts to balance the illustrious responsibly of her lifestyle with the love that she craves.

Throughout this narrative, Marshall explores the idea of celebrity culture and the lacking it can bring. Where fame is often promoted, here it takes a secondary position behind the longing for the romance that’s so far eluded the principle character. Ziyi compels this message through her onscreen persona, bringing an enthralling and emotional connection to her portrayal. Li also presents a different side of this lacking, with her cruel rivalry showcasing the horrid nature of jealousy and the desire to remove competition. The film therefore works best when the two actresses are on screen together, causing the rivalry to feel realistic and believable while enthralling audience members into each characters ideology.

Utilising her screen presence with an elegant grace, this acclaimed portrayal by Ziyi manages to illustrate the hardship and responsibility of the character, the sacrifices made and the eagerness to make her own choices. Through exploring this effectively, Marshall manages to portray Japanese culture in every sense. The production design compliments the film’s premise with beautifully composed camera angles and set designs that transport the audience into Japan’s past.

Where segments of the film are difficult to follow, the majority flows from sequence to sequence in an easy to understand manner. With high standards of film production used in the designing of these sequences, the film could be easily defined as art without substance. Through looking deeper however, the audience is rewarded in a delightful adaptation of a best selling novel, with stand out performances that encapsulate their character portrayals and derive the narrative effectively.

Plot – 4
Acting – 4
Direction – 3
Special Effects – 5
Retrospect – 3