memoirs of a geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha

Theatrical release poster

Directed byRob Marshall
Screenplay byRobin Swicord
Based onMemoirs of a Geisha
by Arthur Golden
Produced by
  • Lucy Fisher
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Douglas Wick
  • Zhang Ziyi
  • Ken Watanabe
  • Michelle Yeoh
  • Kōji Yakusho
  • Youki Kudoh
  • Kaori Momoi
  • Gong Li
CinematographyDion Beebe
Edited byPietro Scalia
Music byJohn Williams


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  • Columbia Pictures
  • DreamWorks Pictures
  • Spyglass Entertainment
  • Amblin Entertainment
  • Red Wagon Entertainment
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing

Release dates

  • November 29, 2005 (Tokyo premiere)
  • December 9, 2005 (United States)

Running time

145 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Japanese
Budget$85 million
Box office$162.2 million

Memoirs of a Geisha is a 2005 American epic period drama film directed by Rob Marshall and adapted by Robin Swicord from the 1997 novel of the same name by Arthur Golden.[2][3] It tells the story of a young Japanese girl, Chiyo Sakamoto, who is sold by her impoverished family to lớn a geisha house (okiya) to lớn tư vấn them by training as and eventually becoming a geisha under the pseudonym "Sayuri Nitta." The film centers around the sacrifices and hardship faced by pre-World War II geisha, and the challenges posed by the war and a modernizing world to lớn geisha society. It stars Zhang Ziyi in the lead role, with Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Youki Kudoh, Suzuka Ohgo, and Samantha Futerman.

The film was produced by Steven Spielberg (through production companies Amblin Entertainment and DreamWorks Pictures) and Douglas Wick (through Red Wagon Entertainment). Production was split between southern and northern California and a number of locations in Kyoto, including the Kiyomizu temple and the Fushimi Inari shrine. It was released a limited release in the United States on December 9, 2005 and a wide release on December 23, 2005, by Columbia Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures, with the latter receiving studio credit only.

The film was released to lớn polarized reviews from critics worldwide 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 Spielberg's long time collaborator John Williams) were praised, but the film was criticized for casting some non-Japanese 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 and her older sister Satsu are sold off by their poor father and taken to lớn Gion, Kyoto. Chiyo is taken in by Kayoko Nitta, known as "Mother", the proprietress of a local okiya; Satsu, deemed too unattractive, is sent to lớn a brothel instead. Chiyo also meets "Granny" and "Auntie", the other women who lập cập the house; Pumpkin, another young girl; and the okiya's resident geisha, Hatsumomo.

Pumpkin and Chiyo soon begin their education to lớn become future geisha. Hatsumomo, seeing Chiyo as a potential rival, immediately treats her with abuse. Hoping she will lập cập away, Hatsumomo tells her where she can find Satsu in the red light district. They make plans to lớn lập cập away the following night. When Chiyo tries to lớn escape via the rooftops, she falls and is injured. As a result, Mother stops investing in her geisha training and instead makes her a menial servant to lớn pay off her debts. Satsu flees Kyoto and Chiyo never sees her again.

One day, while crying on a riverbank, Chiyo encounters Chairman Ken Iwamura. He buys her a shaved ice dessert and gives her his handkerchief and some money to lớn cheer her up. Touched by his kindness, Chiyo resolves to lớn become a geisha sánh that she might become a part of the Chairman's life.

Several years later, Pumpkin debuts as a maiko under Hatsumomo's tutelage. Shortly afterwards, Chiyo is taken under the wing of Mameha, one of the district's most prominent geisha, who persuades Mother to lớn reinvest in Chiyo's geisha training, promising to lớn pay her twice over after her debut. Chiyo becomes a maiko and receives the name Sayuri. At a sumo match, she is reintroduced to lớn the Chairman, but attracts the attention of his gruff business partner Toshikazu Nobu.

Thanks to lớn Mameha's efforts, and in spite of Hatsumomo's scheming, Sayuri rises in popularity; attracting the attention of many men; including Dr. Crab, and the Baron, Mameha's own danna. In a bidding war for Sayuri's deflowering ceremony, as part of her becoming a full geisha, the winning bid is a record-breaking amount from Dr. Crab, 15,000 yen. Mother immediately names Sayuri as her adopted daughter and the heiress to lớn the okiya, crushing Pumpkin and enraging Hatsumomo.

Upon returning trang chủ from the ceremony, Sayuri finds a drunken Hatsumomo in her room, where the latter has found the Chairman's handkerchief. This leads to lớn a fight between them, in which Hatsumomo eventually starts a fire in the okiya. The building is saved, and Hatsumomo is banished from Gion.

Sayuri's successful career is cut short by the outbreak of World War II. The Chairman relocates her to lớn the safety of the countryside, where she works for a kimono maker. After the war ends, Nobu asks Sayuri to lớn help him impress an American Colonel who could approve funding for their business. She reunites with Mameha, who reluctantly agrees to lớn help her impress the Colonel, as well as Pumpkin, who is now working as an escort.

Sayuri travels with Nobu, the Chairman, Mameha, Pumpkin, and the American soldiers to lớn the Amami Islands. The Colonel propositions Sayuri, but she rejects him. Nobu confronts her after seeing this and confesses his desire to lớn become her danna. Sayuri devises a plan to lớn have Nobu catch her being intimate with the Colonel sánh that he will lose interest, and enlists Pumpkin's help to lớn bởi sánh. However, Pumpkin brings the Chairman instead. When confronted, she declares it her revenge for Sayuri being adopted by Mother instead of her. Disheartened, Sayuri gives up on her pursuit for the Chairman.

After returning to lớn Gion, Sayuri is summoned to lớn a nearby tea-house. Expecting Nobu, she is instead surprised to lớn see the Chairman. He confesses his feelings for Sayuri, that he always knew of her identity but refused to lớn interfere with Nobu's feelings out of respect, and that he himself arranged for Mameha to lớn become her mentor. Sayuri is finally able to lớn confess her love to lớn the Chairman and they share a kiss.




Shortly after the book's release in 1997, the filming rights to lớn 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 lớn make Memoirs of a Geisha as the follow-up to lớn Saving Private Ryan, bringing in his company DreamWorks. Spielberg's DreamWorks partner David Geffen attempted to lớn persuade him not to lớn take the project, feeling it was "not good enough for him".[4] Prior to lớn Spielberg's involvement, the film was planned to lớn be shot in nhật bản in the Japanese language.[5] 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 lớn 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 lớn release his next film through Chicago distributors Miramax.[6][7]

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 lớn aid in the production as an advisor,[8] 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 lớn display geisha society accurately.


The orange gateways at the Fushimi Inari shrine in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, used in the scene where a young Chiyo runs through them

Production of the film took place from September 29, 2004 to lớn January 31, 2005. It was decided that contemporary nhật bản looked too modern for a story phối in pre- and post-war nhật bản, 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 phối built on a ranch in Thousand Oaks, California.[9] 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 kết thúc of production, some scenes were shot in Kyoto, including the Fushimi Inari-Taisha, the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto.

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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 lớn sườn 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.


Home media[edit]

The film debuted on DVD, in both Widescreen and Fullscreen versions, on March 28, 2006. The release was a 2-Disc phối, with a second disc dedicated to lớn special features. The film was consequently released on the Blu-ray format on September 25, 2007. The Blu-ray received positive reviews, for the đoạn phim and audio quality and for porting over every single extra from the 2-Disc DVD release.[10][11]


In the Western hemisphere, the film received mixed reviews. In Trung Quốc and nhật bản, reviews were more negative, with some controversy among audience and critics arising from the film's casting and its relationship to lớn Japan's history.

Western box office and reviews[edit]

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".[12] 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".[13]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 35% based on 164 reviews with an average rating of 5.40/10; the consensus stated "Less nuanced than vãn its source material, Memoirs of a Geisha may be a lavish production, but it still carries the simplistic air of a soap opera."[14] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 54 out of 100, based on reviews from 38 critics, meaning "mixed or average review."[15] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B+" on scale of A to lớn F.[16]

In the United States, the film managed $57 million during its box office lập cập. The film was facing off against King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Fun with Dick and Jane during the Christmas holiday. On 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.[17]

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 lớn reveal the soap opera bubbling below".[18] 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".[19] London's The Evening Standard compared Memoirs of a Geisha to lớn 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".[20] Eighteen days later, The Evening Standard put Memoirs of a Geisha on its Top Ten Films list.[21] 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".[22]

Casting controversy[edit]

Controversy arose due to lớn the casting of the film, with all three main female roles going to lớn non-Japanese actresses. Zhang Ziyi (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 actresses 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.[23]

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 Trung Quốc and mainland Asia.[24] The Chinese government canceled the film's release because of such connections, and a trang web denounced Zhang Ziyi as an "embarrassment to lớn Trung Quốc."[25]

In nhật bản, reception to lớn the film was mixed. Some Japanese expressed offence at the three main female roles being played by Chinese actresses; others took issue with the portrayal of geisha in the film, deeming it inaccurate and Westernised.[26] 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".[27] The film garnered only average box office success in nhật bản, despite being a high budget film about Japanese culture.[28]

Other Asians defended the casting, including the film's main Japanese star Ken Watanabe, who said that "talent is more important than vãn nationality."[29] In defense of the film, Zhang said:

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 lớn learn what it is to lớn be a geisha, because almost nobody today knows what that means—not even the Japanese actors on the film. Geisha was not meant to lớn be a documentary. I remember seeing in the Chinese newspaper a piece that said we had only spent six weeks to lớn learn everything and that that was not respectful toward the culture. It's lượt thích saying that if you're playing a mugger, you have to lớn rob a certain number of people. To my mind, what this issue is all about, though, is the intense historical problems between Trung Quốc and nhật bản. 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 lớn vent their anger.[30]

Film critic Roger Ebert pointed out that the film was made by a Japanese-owned company, and that Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang outgrossed any Japanese actress even in the Japanese box office.[31]

Chinese response to lớn the film[edit]

The film received occasionally hostile responses in Mainland Trung Quốc, with the film being censored and banned by Trung Quốc. Relations between nhật bản and Mainland Trung Quốc at the time of the film's release had been particularly tense, owing to lớn the then-Prime Minister of nhật bản, Junichiro Koizumi, having paid a number of visits to lớn the controversial Yasukuni Shrine - a shrine specially dedicated to lớn 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 lớn Japan's actions in Trung Quốc in World War II specifically.

The film's setting of the 1920s and 1940s covers both World War II and the Second Sino-Japanese War, during which time nhật bản captured and forced thousands of Korean and Chinese women into sexual slavery known as "comfort women" for Japanese military personnel.[32] 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 Trung Quốc - in particular, the use of Chinese women as sex slaves for Japan's occupying forces.[33][34]

The film had been originally scheduled to lớn be shown within Mainland Trung Quốc on February 9, 2006; however, the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television decided to lớn 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.[35]

Prohibition of screening in China[edit]

The film was originally scheduled to lớn be approved in November 2005,[36] but in January 2006, the SARFT failed to lớn issue a screening permit.[37] When asked by the reporter whether the film had passed the censorship process, the person in charge of CMPC said "no comment".[38] After 25 January, Memoirs of a Geisha was banned from screening by theaters in mainland Trung Quốc. Mao Yu, director of the Film Council's publicity department, said the film was "sensitive and complex". The truyền thông pointed out Zhang Ziyi's role involving nudity and alluded prostitution, and also a scene in which she bathes with a Japanese man as the reason for the ban, and the fact that it was totally unacceptable in Trung Quốc for a Chinese woman to lớn play a Japanese geisha.[39][40]

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Awards and nominations[edit]

The film received six Academy Award nominations and won three for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design.[41] Williams won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and Zhang was nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama. Gong Li was named Best Supporting Actress by the National Board of Review. Memoirs of a Geisha earned nine nominations at the Satellite Awards. It was also nominated for six BAFTA Awards.

Soundtrack album[edit]

Memoirs of a Geisha OST
Soundtrack album by

John Williams

ReleasedNovember 22, 2005
StudioRoyce Hall
Sony Pictures Studios
LabelSony Classical
ProducerJohn Williams

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.

  1. "Sayuri's Theme" – 1:31
  2. "The Journey to lớn the Hanamachi" – 4:06
  3. "Going to lớn School" – 2:42
  4. "Brush on Silk" – 2:31
  5. "Chiyo's Prayer" – 3:36
  6. "Becoming a Geisha" – 4:32
  7. "Finding Satsu" – 3:44
  8. "The Chairman's Waltz" – 2:39
  9. "The Rooftops of the Hanamachi" – 3:49
  10. "The Garden Meeting" – 2:44
  11. "Dr. Crab's Prize" – 2:18
  12. "Destiny's Path" – 3:20
  13. "A New Name... A New Life" – 3:33
  14. "The Fire Scene and the Coming of War" – 6:48
  15. "As the Water..." – 2:01
  16. "Confluence" – 3:42
  17. "A Dream Discarded" – 2:00
  18. "Sayuri's Theme and End Credits" – 5:06


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  5. ^ " Made In America".
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  17. ^ "Memoirs of a Geisha". The Numbers: Box Office Data. Retrieved February 25, 2007.
  18. ^ Lyttle, John. "The Eastern Affront: This Depiction of Oppression Is Decorously Polite." New Statesman Jan. 16, 2006: 47.
  19. ^ "Memoirs of a Geisha". The Journal (Newcastle, England) Jan. 13, 2006: đôi mươi.
  20. ^ "Dazzled by the Tricks of an Exotic Trade." The Evening Standard (London, England) Jan. 12, 2006: 34.
  21. ^ "Critic's Choice; Top Ten Films." The Evening Standard (London, England) Jan. 30, 2006: 40.
  22. ^ "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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  28. ^ "Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) – International Box Office Results – Box Office Mojo".
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  30. ^ "Zhang Ziyi at – Interview magazine July 2006". Archived from the original on August 29, 2012. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
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  33. ^ "– Yahoo! News". Yahoo!.[dead link]
  34. ^ "Lee slates Trung Quốc 'ban' on actress". BBC News. March đôi mươi, 2008.
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  40. ^ "《艺伎回忆录》遭禁". Sina Entertainment. Shenyang Today Newspaper. January 25, 2006. Retrieved September 23, 2022.
  41. ^ "The 78th Academy Awards (2006) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved November đôi mươi, 2011.

External links[edit]

  • Official website Edit this at Wikidata
  • Memoirs of a Geisha at IMDb
  • Memoirs of a Geisha at AllMovie
  • Memoirs of a Geisha at Box Office Mojo