Memoirs of a Geisha (film)
Memoirs of a Geisha is a 2005 American epic drama film based on the 1997 novel of the same name by Arthur Golden, produced by Steven Spielberg (through production companies Amblin Entertainment and Spyglass Entertainment) and Douglas Wick (through Red Wagon Entertainment). Directed by Rob Marshall, the film was released in the United States on December 9, 2005, by Columbia Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures, with the latter receiving studio credit only.
|Memoirs of a Geisha|
North American theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Rob Marshall|
|Screenplay by||Robin Swicord|
|Based on||Memoirs of a Geisha|
by Arthur Golden
|Music by||John Williams|
|Edited by||Pietro Scalia|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Box office||$162.2 million|
The film tells the story of a young Japanese girl, Chiyo Sakamoto, who is sold by her impoverished family to a geisha house (okiya) in order to support them by training as and eventually becoming a geisha. The film centres around the sacrifices and hardship faced by pre-WW2 geisha, and the challenges posed by the war and a modernizing world to geisha society.
The film stars Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Youki Kudoh, Suzuka Ohgo and Samantha Futerman. Production was split between southern and northern California and a number of locations in Kyoto, including the Kiyomizu temple and the Fushimi Inari shrine.
The film was released to mixed reviews from western critics and was moderately successful at the box office. It was also nominated for and won numerous awards, including nominations for six Academy Awards, and eventually won three: Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. The acting, visuals, sets, costumes, and the musical score (composed by John Williams) were praised, but the film was criticized for casting Chinese actresses as Japanese women and for its style over substance approach. The Japanese release of the film was titled Sayuri, the titular character's geisha name.
In 1929, Chiyo Sakamoto, a young girl living in a poor village, is sold to a geisha house by her father alongside her sister, Satsu, so that they might send money back home. Chiyo is taken in by Kayoko Nitta, the "Mother" (proprietress) of a geisha house in Gion in Kyoto. Satsu is instead taken to a brothel nearby, being judged to be too ugly to become a successful geisha. Chiyo meets "Granny" and "Auntie", two other women who run the house, and the okiya's only working geisha, Hatsumomo, who is beautiful but cruel. Chiyo meets another young girl nicknamed Pumpkin, who she immediately becomes friends with.
Chiyo sneaks out of the house and finds Satsu following a tip from Hatsumomo. The two plan to run away back home together. When Chiyo returns to the okiya that night, she finds Hatsumomo having sex with her boyfriend, Koichi, and the two are caught, alongside Chiyo, by Mother. Mother forbids Hatsumomo from seeing Koichi again, with everyone barred from leaving the okiya at night except to attend work engagements. On the night of Chiyo and Satsu's planned escape, Chiyo sneaks out and accidentally falls off a rooftop, causing serious injury. Mother stops investing in Chiyo's geisha training as a result, and tells her that her parents are dead. Chiyo is demoted from a trainee to a maid inside the okiya.
One day, while crying on a riverbank when out on an errand, Chiyo is noticed by Chairman Ken Iwamura and his geisha companions. He buys her a shaved ice dessert and gives her his handkerchief with some money in it. Inspired by his act of kindness, Chiyo resolves to become a geisha so that she might become a part of the Chairman's life.
Several years later, Pumpkin debuts as a maiko under Hatsumomo, making Chiyo - still working as a maid - envious. Chiyo is taken under the wing of Mameha, Hatsumomo's geisha rival, who convinces Mother to reinvest in Chiyo's training. Chiyo becomes a maiko and takes the name of Sayuri, becoming a popular geisha and making Hatsumomo jealous. Mameha introduces Sayuri to the Chairman and Toshikazu Nobu - the Chairman's business partner - at a sumo match. The Chairman does not seem to recognise Sayuri, and Nobu takes a liking to her. To increase her popularity, Mameha orchestrates a bidding war for Sayuri's mizuage, or virginity, after which she will become a full geisha. Hatsumomo spreads the rumor that Sayuri has already lost her virginity out of jealousy and to try and increase Pumpkin’s chances of Mother naming her as her heir of the house.
To counter this, Mameha arranges for Sayuri to perform as the lead dancer for a popular dance performance, enraging Hatsumomo with jealousy. Sayuri's performance attracts the attention of several men, including the Baron (Mameha's danna). When Dr. Crab congratulates Sayuri at the after party, she convinces him not to listen to Hatsumomo's lies, and the Baron later insists she come to his estate for a cherry blossom-viewing party. When the Baron presents a kimono to Sayuri in private at the party, he undresses her against her will and humiliates her by looking at her body in the mirror. Back in Gion, Mameha is upset and Sayuri tries to reassure her that she is still a virgin, and that the Baron only looked at her- Mameha tells her she will be examined at the ceremony to see if she is worthless.
Sayuri's virginity is won with a record-breaking bid of fifteen thousand yen, by Dr.Crab. Mameha reveals the Baron was actually the highest bidder, but she let it go to Dr. Crab, implying she has feelings for him. She assures Sayuri she knows she was innocent as no man would “pay so much for something he’s already taken.” Mother names her as the heiress to the house, crushing both Hatsumomo's and Pumpkin's chances at a stable future, and effectively ending Sayuri's friendship with Pumpkin. When returning home from the mizuage ceremony, Sayuri finds a drunken Hatsumomo in her room. The two fight and a gas lantern is knocked over, igniting a fire that partially burns the okiya down. Hatsumomo is banished from both the okiya and Gion by Mother.
Sayuri's successful career is cut short by the outbreak of World War II. Both Mameha and Sayuri find jobs outside of Gion, and after the war ends, Sayuri is approached by Nobu to impress an American Colonel who could approve funding for his business. Sayuri reunites with Mameha, who reluctantly agrees to help Sayuri impress the Colonel. Sayuri is reacquainted with Pumpkin, who is now working as an escort and seems much happier. Sayuri travels with Nobu, the Chairman, Mameha, Pumpkin and the American soldiers to the Amami Islands. The Colonel propositions Sayuri, but she rejects him. Nobu confronts Sayuri and confesses his feelings for her, leaving Sayuri distraught. Sayuri devises a plan to have Nobu catch her being intimate with the Colonel, enlisting Pumpkin's help to do so. However, Pumpkin's resentment of Sayuri leads her to bring the Chairman instead. When Sayuri confronts her, Pumpkin coldly tells her that it was revenge for stealing the adoption of the house from her.
After returning to Gion, Sayuri receives summons from a nearby teahouse. She expects to see Nobu, but is instead met by the Chairman, who tells her that he knew of her identity all along, and that he was responsible for Mameha becoming her tutor. Sayuri confesses her love to the Chairman, and the two kiss and embrace before taking a stroll through the garden.
- Ziyi Zhang as Chiyo Sakamoto / Sayuri Nitta
- Gong Li as Hatsumomo
- Samantha Futerman as Satsu Sakamoto
- Mako as Mr. Sakamoto
- Elizabeth Sung as Mrs. Sakamoto
- Kaori Momoi as Kayoko "Mother" Nitta
- Kotoko Kawamura as Grandmother Nitta
- Ken Watanabe as Chairman Ken Iwamura
- Kōji Yakusho as Nobu
- Michelle Yeoh as Mameha
- Youki Kudoh as Pumpkin
- Zoe Weizenbaum as Young Pumpkin
- Tsai Chin as Auntie
- Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Baron
- Cathy Shim as The Baron's Guest
- Kenneth Tsang as General
- Eugenia Yuan as Korin
- Karl Yune as Koichi
- Ted Levine as Col. Derricks
- Paul Adelstein as Lt. Hutchins
Shortly after the book's release in 1997, the filming rights to the book were purchased for $1 million by Red Wagon's Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher, backed by Columbia Pictures. The following year, Steven Spielberg planned to make Memoirs of a Geisha as the follow-up to Saving Private Ryan, bringing in his company DreamWorks. Speilberg's Dreamworks partner David Geffen attempted to persuade him not to take the project, feeling it was "not good enough for him". Prior to Spielberg's involvement, the film was planned to be shot in Japan in the Japanese language. By 2002, with Spielberg having postponed production for A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can, Spielberg stepped down from directorial duties to only produce.
Both Wick and Fisher approached Rob Marshall, who was interested in doing a non-musical after Annie and Chicago. This brought a third company into Memoirs of a Geisha, as Marshall was still signed to release his next film through Chicago distributors Miramax.
The three leading non-Japanese actresses, including Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li, and Michelle Yeoh, were put through "geisha boot camp" before production commenced, during which they were trained in traditional geisha practices of Japanese music, dance, and tea ceremony. Anthropologist Liza Dalby was also brought in to aid in the production as an advisor, though she later commented that "while the director and producers often asked my opinion on things, most of the time they went ahead and followed their own vision", calling the film a "wasted opportunity" to display geisha society accurately.
Production of the film took place from September 29, 2004 to January 31, 2005. It was decided that contemporary Japan looked too modern for a story set in pre- and post-war Japan, meaning that many scenes were filmed on cost-effective soundstages or on location in the United States, primarily California. The majority of the film was shot on a large set built on a ranch in Thousand Oaks, California. Most interior scenes were filmed in Culver City, California at the Sony Pictures Studios lot. Other locations in California included San Francisco, Moss Beach, Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge, Sacramento, Yamashiro's Restaurant in Hollywood, the Japanese Gardens at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, and Downtown Los Angeles at the Belasco Theater on Hill Street. Towards the end of production, some scenes were shot in Kyoto, including the Fushimi Inari-Taisha, the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto.
One of the tasks faced by sound editors in post-production was improving the English pronunciation of the cast, which in part involved piecing together different dialogue clips from other segments of the film to form missing syllables in the actors' speech, as some only spoke partially phonetic English when performing. The achievement of the sound editors earned the film an Academy Award nomination for Best Achievement in Sound Editing.
In the Western hemisphere, the film received mixed reviews. In China and Japan, reviews were mixed to negative, with some controversy among audience and critics arising from the film's casting and its relationship to Japan's history.
Western box office and reviewsEdit
Memoirs of a Geisha received mixed reviews from Western critics. Illinois' Daily Herald said that the "[s]trong acting, meticulously created sets, beautiful visuals, and a compelling story of a celebrity who can't have the one thing she really wants make Geisha memorable". The Washington Times called the film "a sumptuously faithful and evocative adaption" while adding that "[c]ontrasting dialects may remain a minor nuisance for some spectators, but the movie can presumably count on the pictorial curiosity of readers who enjoyed Mr. Golden's sense of immersion, both harrowing and [a]esthetic, in the culture of a geisha upbringing in the years that culminated in World War II".
The film scored a 35% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus stated "Less nuanced than its source material, Memoirs of a Geisha may be a lavish production, but it still carries the simplistic air of a soap opera." On Metacritic, the film was given a 54/100 meaning "mixed or average review."
In the United States, the film managed $57 million during its box office run. The film was facing off against King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Fun with Dick and Jane. During its first week in limited release, the film screening in only eight theaters tallied up an $85,313 per theater average which made it second in highest per theater averages behind Brokeback Mountain for 2005. International gross reached $158 million.
The New Statesman criticized Memoirs of a Geisha's plot, saying that after Hatsumomo leaves, "the plot loses what little momentum it had and breaks down into one pretty visual after another" and says that the film version "abandons the original's scholarly mien to reveal the soap opera bubbling below". The Journal praised Ziyi Zhang, saying that she "exudes a heartbreaking innocence and vulnerablity" but said "too much of the character's yearning and despair is concealed behind the mask of white powder and rouge". London's The Evening Standard compared Memoirs of a Geisha to Cinderella and praised Gong Li, saying that "Li may be playing the loser of the piece but she saves this film" and Gong "endows Hatsumomo with genuine mystery". Eighteen days later, The Evening Standard put Memoirs of a Geisha on its Top Ten Films list. Glasgow's Daily Record praised the film, saying the "geisha world is drawn with such intimate detail that it seems timeless until the war, and with it the modern world comes crashing in".
Controversy arose due to the casting of the film, with all three main female roles going to non-Japanese actresses. Ziyi Zhang (Sayuri) and Gong Li (Hatsumomo) both held Chinese citizenship at the time of the film's production (Gong Li became a naturalised Singaporean from 2008 onwards), whereas Michelle Yeoh (Mameha) is an ethnic Chinese from Malaysia. All three were already prominent actors in Chinese cinema. The film's producers defended the position, stating that the main priorities in casting the three main roles were "acting ability and star power". Director Rob Marshall noted examples such as the Mexican actor Anthony Quinn being cast as a Greek man in Zorba the Greek.
Opinion of the casting in the Asian community was mixed, with some finding the casting of Chinese actresses for Japanese roles offensive in the face of Japan's wartime atrocities in China and mainland Asia. The Chinese government canceled the film's release because of such connections, and a website denounced star Ziyi Zhang as an "embarrassment to China." This was exacerbated by the word "geigi" (芸妓), a Japanese name for geisha used in the Kantō region, which includes Tokyo. The second character (妓) could sometimes mean "prostitute" in Japanese language, though it actually had a variety of meanings, and there was a clear distinction between geisha and prostitutes which were called "Yūjo" (遊女). The character 妓 only means "prostitute" in Chinese, and the correct translation into Chinese of the word "geisha" is 艺伎 (traditional Chinese: 藝伎), which does not use it.
In Japan, reception to the film was mixed. Some Japanese expressed offence at the three main female roles being played by Chinese actors; others took issue with the portrayal of geisha in the film, deeming it inaccurate and Westernised. Japanese cultural expert Peter MacIntosh, who had advised on the film, expressed concern that it had not been made specifically for a Japanese audience, and that anyone knowledgeable about Japanese culture who saw the film would be "appalled". The film garnered only average box office success in Japan, despite being a high budget film about Japanese culture.
A director is only interested in casting someone he believes is appropriate for a role...regardless of whether someone is Japanese or Chinese or Korean, we all would have had to learn what it is to be a geisha, because almost nobody today knows what that means—not even the Japanese actors on the film. Geisha was not meant to be a documentary. I remember seeing in the Chinese newspaper a piece that said we had only spent six weeks to learn everything and that that was not respectful toward the culture. It's like saying that if you're playing a mugger, you have to rob a certain number of people. To my mind, what this issue is all about, though, is the intense historical problems between China and Japan. The whole subject is a land mine. Maybe one of the reasons people made such a fuss about Geisha was that they were looking for a way to vent their anger.
Chinese response to the filmEdit
The film received occasionally hostile responses in Mainland China, with the film being censored and banned by the People's Republic of China. Relations between Japan and Mainland China at the time of the film's release had been particularly tense, owing to the then-Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, having paid a number of visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine - a shrine specially dedicated to honoring Japan's war dead, including those convicted of war crimes. These visits were denounced by China's foreign ministry as having honored war criminals whose crimes pertained to Japan's actions in China in WW2 specifically. China had also prevented Japan from receiving a seat on the United Nations Security Council in the year of the film's release.
The film's setting of the 1920s and 1940s covers both World War II and the Second Sino-Japanese War, during which a time Japan captured and forced thousands of Korean and Chinese women into sexual slavery as so-called "comfort women" for Japanese military personnel. Various newspapers such as the Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post and the Shanghai Youth Daily expressed fears that the film could be banned by censors, with concerns that the casting of Chinese actresses as geisha could create anti-Japanese sentiment, and stir up resentment surrounding Japan's wartime actions in China - in particular, the use of Chinese women as sex slaves for Japan's occupying forces. A different controversy rose with the mentioning of a Japanese soldier that had fought in Manchuria, China, as the geisha introducing the soldier referred to him as a "war hero" in the film.
The film had been originally scheduled to be shown within Mainland China on February 9, 2006; however, the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television decided to ban the film on February 1, 2006, considering the film "too sensitive" for release, a decision that overturned the film's approval for screening in November.
Awards and nominationsEdit
- Won: Best Art Direction (John Myhre and Gretchen Rau)
- Won: Best Cinematography (Dion Beebe)
- Won: Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood)
- Nominated: Best Original Score (John Williams)
- Nominated: Best Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman)
- Nominated: Best Sound Mixing (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Rick Kline and John Pritchett)
- Won: Best Original Score (John Williams)
- Nominated: Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama (Ziyi Zhang)
- Won: Best Supporting Actress (Gong Li)
- Won: Outstanding Screenplay, Adapted (Robin Swicord)
- Nominated: Outstanding Motion Picture, Drama
- Nominated: Outstanding Director (Rob Marshall)
- Nominated: Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama (Ziyi Zhang)
- Nominated: Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role, Drama (Gong Li)
- Nominated: Outstanding Art Direction & Production Design (John Myhre)
- Nominated: Outstanding Cinematography (Dion Beebe)
- Nominated: Outstanding Costume Design (Colleen Atwood)
- Nominated: Outstanding Original Score (John Williams)
- Won: The Anthony Asquith Award for Achievement in Film Music (John Williams)
- Won: Cinematography (Dion Beebe)
- Won: Costume Design (Colleen Atwood)
- Nominated: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Ziyi Zhang)
- Nominated: Production design
- Nominated: Make Up and Hair
- Nominated: Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role (Ziyi Zhang)
- Nominated: Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture (Ziyi Zhang)
|Memoirs of a Geisha OST|
|Soundtrack album by|
|Released||November 22, 2005|
Sony Pictures Studios
The Memoirs of a Geisha official soundtrack featured Yo-Yo Ma performing the cello solos, as well as Itzhak Perlman performing the violin solos. The music was composed and conducted by John Williams, who won his fourth Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
- "Sayuri's Theme" – 1:31
- "The Journey to the Hanamachi" – 4:06
- "Going to School" – 2:42
- "Brush on Silk" – 2:31
- "Chiyo's Prayer" – 3:36
- "Becoming a Geisha" – 4:32
- "Finding Satsu" – 3:44
- "The Chairman's Waltz" – 2:39
- "The Rooftops of the Hanamachi" – 3:49
- "The Garden Meeting" – 2:44
- "Dr. Crab's Prize" – 2:18
- "Destiny's Path" – 3:20
- "A New Name... A New Life" – 3:33
- "The Fire Scene and the Coming of War" – 6:48
- "As the Water..." – 2:01
- "Confluence" – 3:42
- "A Dream Discarded" – 2:00
- "Sayuri's Theme and End Credits" – 5:06
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- "Critic's Choice; Top Ten Films." The Evening Standard (London, England) Jan. 30, 2006: 40.
- "GLAD TO BE GEISHA; Beautifully Shot and Brilliantly Acted, This Is an Oscar Favourite MEMOIRS OF A GEISH A ***** 12A." Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland) Jan. 13, 2006: 46.
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