Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)





Director:  Rob Marshall.

Starring:   Ziyi Zhang (Chiyo/Sayuri), Suzuka Ohgo (Young Chiyo), Ken Watanabe (The Chairman), Kji Yakusho (Nobu), Youki Kudoh (Pumpkin), Li Gong (Hatsumomo), Kaori Momoi (Mother), Tsai Chin (Auntie), Zoe Weizenbaum (Young Pumpkin), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (The Baron),  Kenneth Tsang (The General), Randall Duk Kim (Dr. Crab), Ted Levine (Colonel Derricks), Paul Adelstein (Lieutenant Hutchins), Samantha Futerman (Satsu).

Country:  English film, 144 minutes.


The film is based on a novel by Arthur Golden published in 1997.

I really enjoyed this film and would give it a grade of A.  The audience seemed to enjoy it too.  It is a great love story involving a young girl overcoming extreme hardship to work her way up to be the top Geisha of her city.  Along the way we get to get a good look into the life of a Geisha (not the easiest way to make a living), and see some interesting cityscapes, as well as beautiful landscapes.  Ziyi Zhang (as Siyrui, the heroine) and Gong Li (as Hatsumomo, her rival) are not hard to look at either.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


early 11th century  --  there is controversy about the origins of the Geisha; one tradition is that two women of noble birth created a new dance to entertain the warrior's circles and out of this came the tradition of the Geisha.


The word Geisha means "artist" in Japanese.

"Geisha are professional hostesses who entertain guests through various performing arts in tea houses called O-chaya. They are trained in a number of traditional skills such as Japanese ancient dance, singing, playing instruments such as the Shamisen, flower arrangement, wearing kimo no, tea ceremony, calligraphy, conversation, alcohol serving manners and more."

Some geisha do have intimate relationships with the men.  The men often would become the Geisha's patrons.

Until quite recently, nearly all marriages in Japan were arranged ones. 

Under this system, a Japanese man of means would have two women: his wife and his loved one. It was considered normal for wealthy and powerful men to have liaisons with geisha.


The total number of geisha in the 1920's was 80,000.

21st century  --  because of a more modernized culture the number of geisha has fallen to around 10,000.

Some Geisha can still be found living in traditional geisha houses called okiya in areas called hanamachi ("flower towns").




Meiji Restoration -- last part of the Tokugawa Period and the beginning of the Meiji Period that led to enormous changes in Japan's political and social structure.

1868-1912  --  THE MEIJI PERIOD

1868-1869 Boshin War. The pro-Imperial forces defeated the forces of the shogunate.

1868  -- the 15th Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Keiki) (1837-1913) (r. 1867-1868), stepped down.  The modern era of Japan had begun. 

After the war, the Japanese emperor was restored to real power.  The subsequent Meiji Restoration initiated many reforms. The feudal system was abolished. Several Western institutions were adopted, including a new legal system and a quasi-parliamentary constitutional government outlined in the Meiji Constitution.

1912  --  death of Emperor Meiji. 

Crown Prince Yoshihito became emperor.

Prime Ministers of Japan in the Meiji Period:

Okubo Toshimichi (1830-1878)  -- from the Satsuma Clan

Kido Takayoshi (1833-1877)   --  from the Choshu Clan

Saigo Takamori (1827-1877) --  Satsuma Clan

Iwakura Tomomi (1825-1883) --  Satsuma Clan

Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909)  --  Choshu Clan

Kuroda Kiyotaka (1840-1900)  --  Satsuma Clan

Matsukata Masayoshi (1835-1924) --  Satsuma Clan

Oyama Iwao (1842-1916)

Saigo Tsugumichi (1843-1902)

Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922)

Inoue Kaoru (1835-1915)

Saionji Kinmochi (1849-1940)


1912-1926  --  The Taisho Period

The new emperor was not well physically. This helped shift political power from the old oligarchic group of "elder statesmen" to the Diet (parliament). This was the time of the liberal movement known as the "Taisho democracy".

1914  --  Japan declared war on Germany.  The nation quickly occupied German-leased territories in China's Shandong Province and the following Pacific islands: Mariana, Caroline and Marshall Islands. 



The Emperor Hirohito reigned over Japan; the longest reign of all Japanese emperors.

The early part of Hirohito's reign was characterized by extreme nationalism and imperialism.



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