Release: September 23, 1997
The story outline.
It is 1929 in Japan. The mother of Sakamoto Chiyo and her older sister, Satsu is on her death bed. Their father is desperate and so Sakamoto Chiyo and Satsu are taken to Gion by Mr. Tanaka to be sold. Satsu is sold to a “house of pleasure” to be a prostitute, while Chiyo is sold to an Okiya, a house for geisha.
Chiyo was an attractive girl, she had unusual blue eyes but was a bit ill-mannered. Chiyo could be a excellent geisha because of her imposing personality. However to become a geisha is not that easy when your “sister” Hatsumomo works against you. Hatsumomo was the resident Geisha and also the only geisha of the Nitta okiya. The arrogant Hatsumomo recognises Chiyo as a potential rival. Due to Hatsumomo’s accusations, Chiyo is reduced to becoming a maid in the okiya. With no future of becoming a geisha.
An encounter with the wealthy and kind Chairman changes her luck. As soon as Mameha who’s the most successful geisha in Gion meets Chiyo, she is willing to take Chiyo in as her younger sister and train her to become a Geisha. Mameha is a big rival of Hatsumomo because unlike Hatsumomo she earned her independence. Chiyo’s entrance into the life of a geisha has brought her a new name: Sayuri.
The outbreak of WWII changes the whole situation. Her successes are not relevant anymore, and she has to cope with heavy labor and malnutrition in a dark valley.
During her time as a geisha before WWII, she meets the chairman again. It was impossible for her to get closer to him as she desires. Instead, she finds herself constantly being pushed to be with Nobu, the chairman’s most trusted friend. It is Nobu that saves Sayuri from her life in a dark valley. He picked her up when Gion was able to be reopened again, on the condition that she would allow him to be her patron, despite the fact that it is the chairman she desires.
Later on the Chairman frees her from the okiya to become her Danna (similar to what a wife calls her husband). After several years as the Chairman’s mistress, Sayuri sets up her own teahouse in New York for Japanese Businessmen so that the chairman does not lose his face in Japan when his daughter is about to get married to a man who would be the potential heir of his company.
I think it is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a nice reflection of a civilized culture, with it’s own traditions. The story is well told. You can imagine how the geisha’s have looked like because of good descriptions. The story wasn’t boring at all. It is a book in which culture and history is combined into one good story and which can hold your attention through out the whole book.