Friday, September 28, 2012

Memoirs of a Geisha


When Memoirs of a Geisha (the movie) was prepping to debut, I heard it was based on a book by Arthur Golden (1997).  Naturally, me being me of course, I wanted to read it before I saw the movie.  I found the book easily enough and was instantly engaged.

The story is about a young girl from Yoroido--Chiyo--who, with her sister, are sold to the geisha province of Kyoto after the death of their mother.  Separated from her sister, Satsu, Chiyo is sold to a geisha house as a maid then eventually given the opportunity to be sent to school to be trained as a geisha.  In an attempt to runaway with her sister, who she finds in the "red light district", she falls from a roof and is returned to the geisha house injured, where, as punishment, she will remain a slave forever, never to be a geisha.  However, Hatsumomo, the current highest paid geisha in the region, a geisha in the house Chiyo serves, is wrecking havoc left and right for the other houses.  At her current rate, it is Hatsumomo who stands the best chance of being adopted by the mistress and taking over the geisha house, which no other house wants to see happen.  Mameha, Hatsumomo's fiercest rival, plots to make little Chiyo the new belle of the ball and unseat Hatsumomo from her reign.

Golden weaves a tale of majesty and wonder in a world that otherwise may never have been explored.  Brimming with historic accuracy, we are transported to pre-World War II Japan, where becoming a geisha is one of the highest and respected professions a young girl can achieve.  Little Chiyo becomes Sayuri, and strives to become the most famous geisha in the world.  But the war, and her love for a man--as geishas are not meant to love, prevents her from following her heart and achieving the destiny that she knows is hers.

The movie is as gratifying as the book, while there are of course significant differences in the storyline.  (Again, as I say nearly every month, movies and books are different mediums and have to be judged individually.)  The visual mastery of the film is transcendent and epic.  The culture is portrayed beautifully, weaving a world of majesty and wonder in a way I have never seen before.  I was captivated from the first scene, and have remained so ever since.  The acting is brilliant, and you love to hate Hatsumomo--although, I did feel some empathy for her toward the end.

I know that if you sit down with this book, then turn down the lights and watch this movie, you're absolutely going to love both.  However, I have to admit I love the movie a little more than the book.  The novel can drag in places in a way the movie does not, and it may have helped the story if the book was written as an actual memoir.  Those points notwithstanding, both mediums are an absolute masterpiece.

5/5 suns: the movie makes up for some of the lull in the book.  Great date or girls night DVD.

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