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Memoirs of a Geisha

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
Memoirs of a Geisha Movie Poster Image
Gorgeous, but slow-moving and not meant for kids.
  • PG-13
  • 2005
  • 143 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 13 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink and smoke cigarettes.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bytommysportsgirl April 9, 2008

a beautiful film!

This isn't a kid's film, so don't think about taking your little children. There's a few nude scenes, nothing really explicit, just enough... Continue reading
Adult Written byjaiekeller April 9, 2008

The movie was better

Sadly, it doesn't often happen, but the movie was better in my eyes due to the lack of explicit sexuality. The book contained a severe amount of explicit... Continue reading
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 se... Continue reading
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!

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.

Talk to your kids 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

For kids who love dramas

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