Memoirs of a Geisha



Gorgeous, but slow-moving and not meant for kids.
Popular with kids
  • Review Date: March 27, 2006
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2005
  • Running Time: 143 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Geishas compete ruthlessly, by embarrassing rivals or ruining reputations; geishas are expected to sell their virginity.


Young sisters are violently separated (leading to tears and loneliness); scenes of war and invasion; characters argue and fight (some slapping); a woman tries to burn down the geisha house.


Geishas do not technically sell sex, but rather, the idea of it: their "exotic" displays are seductive; a young woman is assaulted by a wealthy man.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters drink and smoke cigarettes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that while this film is beautiful, it's slow-moving and occasionally scary, not designed for young children. The film includes some images of streets under siege (China and Japan are at war), as well as tensions inside the geisha house (one character sets fire to the house, leading to some frightening images). The film begins with the traumatic scene of a young girl sold to a geisha house by her poor parents, and shows her upset when she's forcibly separated from her sister, who works at another house.

What's the story?

In MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, Sayuri (played as an adult by Ziyi Zhang) is sold by her poor family to a geisha house, or okiya, when she's just nine; her blue eyes make her look "special" and Hatsumomo (Gong Li) is immediately jealous, threatening the child. The film westernizes Sayuri, in part by having her yearn endlessly for the wealthy Chairman (Ken Watanabe), whom she meets as a child. But it also preserves her "exotic" otherness. The geisha insist they are not prostitutes, selling sex only as illusion. They do, however, sell their virginity, and pride themselves on being well paid for it. The fact of Sayuri's stunning blue eyes only underlines this refusal to engage with the hardships geishas endure as a matter of course. She is "special," she is treasured, she is property. Sayuri's displays of artifice are lovely and a little daunting. Images of this lifelong process of objectification are framed by others that approximate "history," including the Sino-Japanese war, which leaves the okiya devastated, and Sayuri laboring in a field. She does find her way back into geisha-ness, depicted as a kind of triumph. The fantasy remains the most precious object, whether embodied by gorgeous women or imagined by them.

Is it any good?


Memoirs is not so intriguing as it promises, leaving little to the imagination with its series of heavyhanded set pieces. Based on Arthur Golden's novel and directed by the dramatically unsubtle Rob Marshall, the film is disappointingly straightforward, predictable, and unwieldy.

This despite and because of the presence of the glorious women actors at its center, including Zhang as the youngest geisha, Michelle Yeoh as her mentor Mameha, and wondrous Gong Li as her rival Hatsumomo. The women are stunning (and some questions have been raised as to the casting of Chinese superstars as Japanese characters). Memoirs never questions the overdetermination of beauty. So unexamined, so delicate, so mysterious: the geisha is not so much remembered here as she is conjured and undermined, repeatedly.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the film's portrayal of geisha life: it is mysterious but also difficult. How does the film both "westernize" its characters and "exoticize" them, so they are both conventionally sympathetic and stereotypically "inscrutable"? How is Sayuri's love for the Chairman a function of romantic conventions more than a substantive relationship between the two characters? How is the idea of the geisha associated with "submissive" and servile women?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 9, 2005
DVD release date:March 28, 2006
Cast:Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi
Director:Rob Marshall
Studio:Columbia Tristar
Run time:143 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:mature subject matter and some sexual content.

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  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 15 years old Written byenglishrider4546 April 9, 2008

Book is better

I read the book after I found out it was going to be made into a movie. While not, as informative as the book, I found this movie was really fascinating. The sexual overtones are definately there. One of the geisha has an affair with a local chef, Syuri eventually loses her virginity to an older man. All and all, this movie is one that can best be understood by people who read the book, seeing that they pretty much understand what it is they are getting into.
Teen, 15 years old Written byViolinPlaya650 April 9, 2008


This is an amazing movie... it is absolutely beautiful. We know who will be taking all of the oscars this year. Highly Recommended!
Adult Written byhelsingmusique November 5, 2014

Do not know why the book isn't on this site

The movie is rated PG -13 for a reason, I read the book when I was eleven years old and I got to the chapter where it is mentioned they check to see if the one girl lost her virginity and that's when I realized I probably should not be reading that book at that age. This is one of the view times I agree with the age restrictions set by the Motion Picture Association of America. 13 is a good age for this movie, maybe a little older, but definitely 13 is fine. But by all means read the book, it is a very good read, no matter the fact that this will culturally shock some people, it is a very good book.


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