Love and intrigue in a shadow world


Since Memoirs of a Geisha tied for Best Picture, it is not being considered for an Oscar and the Academy went against popular belief that Ziyi Zhang would get a nomination for Best Actress. But Memoirs is in the nominations six times including one for Art Direction and Cinematography and Costume Design. Which goes to show just how beautiful it is. You have to see it if only to know what Hollywood can achieve.

According to Ellen A. Kim, “Memoirs is a fascinating story, which traces a young girl’s determination to free herself from the imprisonment of scullery maid to geisha, then from the imprisonment of geisha to a woman allowed to love. Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo), a young girl with curious blue eyes, is sold to a geisha house and doomed to pay off her debt as a cleaning girl until a stranger named The Chairman (Ken Watanabe) shows her kindness. She is inspired to work hard and become a geisha in order to be near the Chairman, with whom she has fallen in love. An experienced geisha (Michelle Yeoh) chooses to adopt her as an apprentice and to use her as a pawn against her rival, the wicked, legendary Hatsumomo (Gong Li). Chiyo (played as an older woman by Ziyi Zhang), now renamed Sayuri, becomes the talk of the town, but as her path crosses again and again with the Chairman’s, she finds the closer she gets to him, the further away he seems. Her newfound ‘freedom’ turns out to be trapping, as men are allowed to bid on everything from her time to her virginity.”

But a fascinating insight is provided by film writer Cristy Lytal, “Steven Spielberbg, Spike Jonze, Kimberly Peirce and Brett Ratner, all flirted with adapting Memoirs of a Geisha from Arthur Golden’s novel before Rob Marshall claimed it as his follow-up to 2002’s Oscar winning Chicago. ‘What’s exciting is that there’s all these layers to the geisha world,’ Marshall says of the project’s appeal. ‘You keep peeling them away, and in the centre is a beautiful Faberge egg.’ Zhang underwent six weeks of boot camp dedicated to the mastery of seven skills. English language, dance, makeup, hair, dressing, scene rehearsal, and movement. As for Marshall, he too got to work with layers… of red tape. Although the crew constructed a 20th century Japanese village outside Los Angeles, where a large part of the movie was shot, it took a whole year to secure the real thing. ‘Shooting in Japan takes an enormous amount of negotiation,’ the director says. ‘Ask Sofia Coppola about it who directed Lost In Transalation there’.”

Says the BBC, “The film marks a watershed for Zhang who follows in the footsteps of other stars like Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones — all of whom came from lands afar and managed to conquer Hollywood.”

Ziyi Zhang says, “I always wanted to do original roles. That’s why I really appreciate this movie, because they gave us a chance to show our ability, and more audiences will know we have the ability to do more than action and kung-fu.”