Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha is based on Arthur Golden’s bestselling novel of the same name, a co-production of DreamWorks, Amblin Entertainment, Spyglass Entertainment, and Red Wagon Productions. The film stars Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Youki Kudoh, and Suzuka Ohgo.
Originally, the film’s producer Steven Spielberg is set to direct the film after Saving Private Ryan (1998). However, DreamWorks executive David Geffen persuades him not to helm the project, reportedly saying, “I don’t think it’s good enough for him”. Instead, Spielberg goes on to direct A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). Prior to Spielberg’s involvement, the film is planned to be shot in Japan, in Japanese language, with subtitles.
Following his critically acclaimed directorial debut for the film adaptation of Chicago (2002), Rob Marshall agrees to sign on as director because he wants to do something very different and challenging.
John Williams who, like Spielberg, has fallen in love with Arthur Golden’s novel, composes the brilliant score, using it as an opportunity to collaborate with two of his favorite performers: Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman who already performed as violinist on the score of Schindler’s List (1993).
The three leading non-Japanese actresses, Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, and Michelle Yeoh, are put through “geisha boot camp”, during which they are trained in traditional geisha practices of musicianship, dance, and tea ceremony.
The film faces mixed reviews and is heavily criticized by Asian critics for having Chinese actresses portraying the geishas (according to producer Lucy Fisher, the crew held an open day for audition for Japanese actresses to audition but none turned up).
Nevertheless, Memoirs of a Geisha is nominated for and wins numerous awards including Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. It grosses $162 million worldwide, against a budget of $85 million.