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At age 9, Chiyo (Sazuka Ohgo) is sold by her parents into mother's
(Kaori Momoi) geisha house, but almost immediately she wants to make an
escape with her sister, who has been sold to a nearby brothel - but the
escape goes wrong when Chiyo falls down a wall and is brought back to
mother with injuries - and as a punishment, she has to from now on slave
Heartbroken, Chiyo sits on a bridge contemplating suicide when she
meets the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), who invites her to an icecream and
gives her some money ... immediately, Chiyo falls in love with the much
older man, and when she sees the glamourous geishas accompanying him, she
decides it's worth her while to become a geisha after all. A short time
later, famed geisha Mamahe (Michelle Yeoh) is taking Chiyo under her wing
Years later, Mamahe takes Chiyo to a Sumo wrestling match to accompany
two man, Nobu (Koji Yakusho) and ... the Chairman of course. Thing is, due
to her profession, Chiyo has to put up with Nobu, who has almost
immediately fallen in love with her ...
Soon enough, Chiyo is to lose her virginity, and a bidding war starts
over who has the honours - but neither the Chairman nor Nobu are bidding
but the sleazy General (Kenneth Tsang) who almost raped her once before
and a certain Doctor Crab (Randall Duk Kim), who is of no importance to
the story but who ultimately gets to deflower Chiyo, off-screen.
The price paid for Chiyo was the highest ever for the defloration of a
geisha, so mother decides to make her heiress of her geishahouse - much to
the dismay of Hatsumomo (Gong Li), a scheming geisha who thinks her
protegée Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh) deserves to inherit the house ... and thus
Hatsumomo burns down the house ...
Then the Second World War breaks out, and the Chairman sees to it that
Chiyo gets a decent job at a kimono factory (hey, this is Japan, what else
but kimonos do they produce ?).
War is over as quickly as it begun, and now the Chairman and Nobu want
to entertain some American investors and need geishas again - and who
better to ask than Chiyo, who brings along Mameha and Pumpkin. Chiyo
quickly enough catches the eye of American Colonel Derricks (Ted Levine),
but she refuses to have sex with him - after all that's not a geisha's
job. Then though, Nobu confesses his undieing love for her, and all of a
sudden Chiyo realizes that should she give in to Nobu she will have lost
the Chairman, her one true love, forever - so she has sex with the Colonel
after all, but tells Pumpkin to bring by Nobu so his heart can
conveniently be broken ... but Pumpkin brings by the Chairman, and the
whole thing backfires ...
And why did Pumpkin do it ?
Because she's still angry at Chiyo because she became mother's
successor and not Pumpkin ...
Years later: The Chairman stops by Chiyo's place, tells her it was him
who told Mameha to take Chiyo under his wing in the first place because he
fell in love with her (hey, she was 9 back then !!!), and the two of them
have a happy ending after all.
Oh boy, what a pretentious piece of kitsch: An extremely cheesy,
utterly silly and unrealistic love story packed into well over two hours
of Oriental clichés with the word kimono mentioned so annoyingly
often that after a time you are not sure if this isn't supposed to be a
parody anymore - after all, there's quite a bit more to Japanese culture
than kimonos, geishas and of course Sumo wrestling. But of course,
director Rob Marshall doesn't seem to be the least bit interested into
Japanese culture as long as he has some colourful sets to play with -
which he uses in an overly glossy, uninventive way. And don't even get me
started on the incredible number of one-dimensional and clichéd
characters populating the film, from lead character Chiyo downwards ...
Interestingly, the film was mostly criticized for using Chinese
actresses (Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li) in key roles as Japanese
geishas, which is really the least of the film's problems as these three
actresses are all rather fine - even if only Gong Li really shines in the
only colourful role in the whole film -, it's anything else that doesn't
Don't watch it !
By the way, this film was supposed to conquer the Chinese market -
hence the three Chinese leads -, but obviously the producers were
completely unaware of certain problems in the Chinese-Japanese
relationship and ultimately the film was banned by the Chinese censors ...