Few directors enjoy a debut like Rob Marshall's 2002 film Chicago, popular among critics and movie fans of all circles.  Because of his initial success, high expectations surrounded his second feature, and it is comparable in many ways.  Most strikingly, Chicago cinematographer Dion Beebe has rejoined Marshall to enrich Memoirs of a Geisha with bold and at times unreal color and light.

The story is adapted from the successful novel of the same title, in which a young girl aspires to be a geisha in pre-World War II Japan.  If you have heard the word “geisha” many times but are unsure exactly what that means, you are not alone. Now that I have seen the film, I can best explain it as a professional flirt. These women are paid to be glamorous, talented, and charming, and despite their insistence that they do not sell their bodies, they seem to do so on occasion. 

The tension in Memoirs centers on the main character's search for freedom amidst a life that is little more than slavery.  She tolerates the geisha lifestyle only to pursue the man she loves, the only person who has ever shown her kindness. Through her entire life, she has only been used: sold by her father, abused by her fellow geisha, objectified by her clients. Despite this persistent use, she knows she is meant to be loved, a message worthy of the personalism of our beloved Pope John Paul II.

Some difficult scenes include an attempted rape and a fight between two of the women, but generally the film condemns the violence and abuses of the geisha lifestyle. Memoirs is a serious film that addresses important issues surrounding human dignity, and that intensity goes hand-in-hand with the vibrant and colorful images that bring this hidden life to the screen.