Let me start by briefly explaining how I came to read Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden. I was talking about books with a work colleague – and we asked each other what our all-time favourite book is. Hers was Memoirs of a Geisha, which she said was an odd choice because she would never in a million years have picked it out of a book store herself. It was a random gift years ago from a friend of hers, and she’s since read it cover to cover many times. I didn’t give the book another thought until it was one of Amazon’s 99p Kindle Book deals of the day – but gave it a chance to see if it really could be that good.
It’s taken me 3 weeks to read, not because I haven’t had the interest. I couldn’t fill a post-it note with what I know about Geisha so there’s so much content and so many words that are unfamiliar to me, my reading pace was as slow as it’s ever been. With any other book, it would have been enough to make me give up, but I was completely absorbed in the life of this incredible character, and I was gutted when I finished it – which is what led me to watch the movie.
Little Chiyo and her older sister are sold by their Father after their Mother falls gravely ill. Chiyo’s beautiful grey eyes land her a place at an Okiyo, a Geisha house, but her sister is much less fortunate and ends up in the prostitute district. Working as a maid whilst also hoping to become a Geisha, Chiyo suffers many a misfortune and almost loses it all, until a chance meeting with a man known only as the Chairman turns her luck around. Over the years, Chiyo becomes one of the most famous and respected Geisha in Gion.
Maybe it’s because I was taking extra care when reading, but I loved the style of writing when it came to describing not only Gion but everything to do with the life of a Geisha such as their hair, kimonos, and how they entertain at teahouses. It’s a beautiful, yet sad life, and it was fascinating to learn more about it.
The ending of the book was particularly powerful, and what made me decide that I wanted to watch the movie. I wasn’t ready to leave that world behind me quite yet, so it seemed like the best thing I could do. We all know that the movie is rarely better than the book, and that’s the case here too, but it’s a very good adaptation at least. I’m planning on doing an actual review this weekend but for now, let me share a few thoughts.
One thing I enjoy when watching a movie adaptation of a book I’ve read is seeing if my vision of how characters and locations look match the movie. In most cases they did – although the character Nobu looked nothing at all like I pictured him. Also, the Geisha Hatsumomo is such a hateful character that although she’s described in the book as being beautiful I struggled to picture her so – but the casting choice was perfect and made her character feel all the more dangerous.
Apart from one scene that was vastly different from the book, everything else was very much the same, albeit with a lot of the story cut out. That’s my main complaint about the movie, but I know it can’t be helped. The movie is already 2 and a half hours long, but with so much of Chiyo’s/Sayuri’s relationship with Nobu cut out the romance arc and the eventual ending didn’t have the same impact on me.
That said, it’s a fantastic movie that is definitely worth watching if you haven’t already. What I recommend more, however, is the book!