I’ve always loved this movie and recently had the pleasure of reading the book. That being said, I probably shouldn’t have watched this directly after finishing the book. It took a little away from the movie for me.
Chiyo (Suzukha Ohgo) is a young girl who is sold, along with her sister, in Kyoto. They are separated, and while her sister goes away, Chiyo is sold to an okiya (house for geishas) and is apprenticed as a Geisha there. However, between trouble she brings on herself by trying to run away, and the jealousy of resident Geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li), life doesn’t go the way its supposed to for Chiyo. Thinking herself destined to become a maid with no future, Chiyo gives up all hope until she is encountered by a handsome man on the bridge who buys her a flavored ice. This man, the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), is what inspires her to do everything she can to become a Geisha.
Years pass and Chiyo is finally given her chance when the famous Geisha Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) takes her under her wing and teaches her the art of the Geisha. She debuts as Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi) and quickly earns her way to fame. She faces some opposition from Hatsumomo and can never fully realize her dream of being with the Chairman as too many things get in the way. She has her duty as a Geisha, then comes the War, and after the war she has to struggle to reearn her place in the world of Geisha.
There are many other actors in this film of course but they play more minor roles compared to the ones already listed. There is the vivacious Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh) who is first a friend and later a rival. Nobi (Koji Yakusho) a stern man with no love of Geisha except for Sayuri. Mother (Kaori Momoi) who runs the okiya and is a stern mistress and many others. Most of them were well played although after reading the book, it seemed that Sayuri wasn’t given as much personality in this film. Mameha was played excellently as was the Chairman.
The film itself was beautiful and the music authentic. These two were paired throughout the film to make the art of the geisha and its no surprise that books have been made with photos from the film. Everything, the costuming, make-up, and scenes were exquisitely done. It was truly a pleasure for the eyes to watch.
While somewhat disappointed with the film after reading the book it was still a masterpiece to watch and because not all read the book I will rate the film on its merit as a film alone; which is five stars. This is definitely a movie to see.