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Memories of a Geisha

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Memories of a Geisha


The 2005 movie Memories of a Geisha, by Bob Marshal, follows pretty closely the plot of the novel that it is based on. The director cut just a few scenes, probably due to the difficulty of fitting the 428 p 747c29h ages of Arthur Golden's best-seller in little more than 2 hours of film.

One of the biggest problems in adapting this book to the screen was that the author, in describing a society and customs that are pretty much unknown to the Western World, often pauses the events of the story in order to closely explain the life-style of the Kyoto geishas, during the 1930s. Obviously this wasn't possible for the director, unless he appealed to a narrator that would have slowed down the whole movie. Instead, he often lets the actors give some information through the dialogues, so that each character helps the audience to understand the background.



Another difference is that in the movie, the figure of the Chairman, the person that Sayuri, the main character, is in love with since their first meeting and to whom all her life is devoted, has a much bigger role. In the novel, the Chairman appears just sporadically, but he has a big space in the geisha's thoughts. Of course, the director, to remark the central importance of this character, had to show him more often. This is, for example, the reason why it is the Chairman who finds a safe place for Sayuri during World War II, instead of his friend, Nobu.

A scene that is obviously greatly modified, is the one in which Sayuri has an argument with Hatsumomo, her biggest rival. In the movie version, the two geishas get directly in a huge fight that ends up with Hatsumomo burning the okiya, the house they live in, and consequently being fired. This is an easy way to underline Hatsumomo's disruptive personality and to justify her departure from the residence, that in the book is way more complicated.

Toward the conclusion of the book, the role of the Americans on the story is enlarged. We're in the first years after the end of the War, and the American soldiers become the major costumers in the district of Gion, where Sayuri entertains during parties. Even though their role isn't fundamental for the events of the story, the director probably thought that giving them more space would help to delineate the changing Japanese society of the Post-War and the contrast between the loud and outgoing western ways and the reserved eastern manners.

Finally, Bob Marshal's climax is much more "cinematographic": when Sayuri and the Chairman kiss each other in the last scene, they're in a magnificent Japanese garden, surrounded by waterfalls and peach flowers and not in an empty room with the rain falling outside. And the soundtrack is the icing on the cake of the Hollywood-style romance. But this is something that just couldn't be avoided.

The movie also finishes earlier. The part in which Sayuri, now an old lady, tells her life's story from her New York apartment, is completely absent. But concluding the film with a romantic kiss was probably a best solution.

Memories of a Geisha wasn't for sure an easy novel to base a movie on. Sometimes the director had to modify some particulars, in order to give the whole fluency and to create an overall atmosphere, that is certainly more valuable than some little details.




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Hits: 1929
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