The film adaptation of the eponymous 1997 novel by American author Arthur Golden, “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005) is a period drama about love, loss, faith and resilience. The film revolves around Chiyo Sakamoto (Ziyi Zhang), a girl sold by her family to an important geisha house in Kyoto, and follows her incredible journey to become the most important geisha in the city. And then war comes, and the protagonist is forced to leave this life behind. Despite all the happiness and difficulties she experiences, she clings to her strong romantic feelings for a businessman who showered her with incredible kindness when they first met. Here’s everything you need to know about the ending of “Memoirs of a Geisha”. SPOILERS TO COME.
Synopsis of Memoirs of a Geisha Plot
Born in a small fishing hamlet by the ocean, Chiyo leads an impoverished life with her family. After her mother falls ill, her father sells her and her sister Satsu, hoping that they will be accepted into a geisha house and return their earnings home. The two sisters are then taken to a hanamachi (the neighborhood where the geishas live and perform) in Kyoto. After Aunt (Tsai Chin), one of the residents of Nitta Okiya, sees the two sisters, she chooses only Chiyo. And Satsu is then taken to a brothel.
Chiyo meets Kayoko “Mother” Nitta (Kaori Momoi), the current owner of the Okiya, and her predecessor, Grandmother (Kotoko Kawamura). Chiyo’s initial phase of rebellion begins to fade when she learns that there is little chance of finding her sister in the maze of tiled roofs that is the hanamachi. She finds a friend in Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh), a girl her age, and an enemy in Hatsumomo (Gong Li), the only active geisha in the Okiya and one of the two most prominent geisha in town. Hatsumomo becomes jealous not of who Chiyo is now, but of what she can potentially become.
Chiyo enrolled in a geisha school, officially starting her training. However, following an unsuccessful attempt to escape from the Okiya and flee elsewhere with her sister, Chiyo’s position in the Okiya reverted to being a maid. She learns that her parents are dead and that her sister has managed to escape. The narrator of the film, a much older version of Chiyo, informs audiences that she has never seen her sister again. One day, on a bridge over the Sunagawa River, she meets the President (Ken Watanabe), who, after seeing her cry, buys her a shaved ice cream cone. The meeting leaves a deep impression on Chiyo. She keeps the handkerchief he gives her and goes to a nearby shrine to pray to the deity to become a geisha and meet the president again.
When Chiyo is 15, Kyoto’s other prominent geisha, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), visits Nitta Okiya to ask her mother to let her train Chiyo in the arts of geisha. Chiyo subsequently becomes a maiko, a geisha in training, and receives a new name, Sayuri. Meanwhile, Hatsumomo has taken Pumpkin under his wing. Eventually, Sayuri becomes Kyoto’s most famous geisha, surpassing both Mameha and Hatsumomo. As Mameha hoped, Mother subsequently chooses Sayuri over Pumpkin as her successor. That night, Hatsumomo nearly burns the Okiya, causing him to leave.
Then World War II arrives, and a significant number of geishas are taken to cities that can potentially be bombed. The president and his friend Nobu (Kōji Yakusho) ensure the safety of Sayuri by sending him to the countryside. She spent several years there, working for a kimono maker. After the war, Nobu comes to seek Sayuri’s help for him and the president. Realizing that fate has given him the opportunity to see the president again, Sayuri accepts.
Memoirs of a Geisha End: Do Sayuri and the President End Together?
Yes, they meet at the end of the film. And it is strongly suggested that the president become Sayuri’s danna. From the moment of their first meeting, Sayuri has fallen in love with the president. As she tells him, every step she has taken in her life has brought her to him. Their second meeting occurs when Sayuri is still the maid at the Okiya. As the President later reveals, he recognizes her during this meeting and is interested in her. When he sees that his friend Nobu has become attracted to Sayuri, he decides to step back, hoping that Sayuri will bring some semblance of peace to Nobu’s troubled life. After the war, when Nobu asks her for help, Sayuri accepts her proposal as she hopes to see the president again.
She returns to town and finds Pumpkin and Mameha and convinces them to help her. Nobu asked him to entertain US Colonel Derricks (Ted Levine), who can award a contract to Nobu and the President’s company. They all fly to the Amami Islands, where Sayuri first repels Derricks’ advances, telling him that a geisha is an artist. However, she later tries to use it to undo the romantic feelings Nobu has for her. She asked Pumpkin to bring Nobu while she (Sayuri) is intimate with Derricks. Instead, Pumpkin brings in the President, who, after seeing her with Derricks, quickly leaves.
Sayuri and the President reunite in the film’s final scenes, and the latter confesses his feelings for her. As they walk around the tea room garden together, Elder Sayuri’s narration gives clues to their future. When they first meet, we learn that the President has children. His wife is probably alive as it probably would have been explicitly mentioned if she hadn’t been. So when the narrator says, “To a man, a geisha can only be a half-wife,” she is probably thinking about her happy ending with the president. It’s not as absolute as it often happens in other romantic films. But then again, she never wished for a happy ending. At the shrine, all those years ago, she prayed to be a geisha and see the president again, and she got everything she wanted.
The movie ends here and doesn’t show what the future holds for them. The president will most likely become her danna or her boss. In Golden’s book, Sayuri ceases to be a geisha after the president becomes his danna. They have a son together. After the president’s death, she traveled to America with her son and founded a tea house in New York. The Sayuri movie can follow this path or create a new one. In any case, the president will be part of his future.
Why does the pumpkin betray Sayuri?
When Sayuri sees Pumpkin after the war, the war has undergone drastic changes. The shy, soft-spoken girl Sayuri knew is gone forever. She has been replaced by a strong and assertive woman who knows how to use her sexuality. The war hadn’t been sweet for Pumpkin, but she survived it. And now she works as an escort, mainly entertaining American soldiers. Although she tells Sayuri that she doesn’t blame the other girl for what happened when they were maiko, but as evidenced by her actions regarding the president of the Amami Islands, she clearly does.
As Hatsumomo’s apprentice, Pumpkin hoped to become the next mother. But Kayoko knew that if she allowed Pumpkin to become the mother, she would essentially hand over the Okiya to Hatsumomo. Mameha’s involvement in Sayuri’s training offered her a potential alternative, and she eagerly accepted it. When Mother chooses Sayuri over Pumpkin as her successor, it has caused irreparable damage to Sayuri and Pumpkin’s friendship. And that ultimately results in Pumpkin’s betrayal when she brings in the President and not Nobu while Sayuri is with Derricks. She knows how much it will hurt Sayuri and wants her to feel the same pain she felt when Mother chose the other daughter as her successor.
Why is Mameha helping Sayuri?
Mameha’s involvement in Sayuri’s life ends up radically changing her. It is thanks to Mameha’s clever plot that Sayuri becomes Kyoto’s tallest geisha. However, it is revealed in the last part of the film that the President asked Mameha to contact Nitta Okiya and take Sayuri as an apprentice. But that doesn’t take away from the relationship the two women have had over the years. In the absence of her real sister, Mameha occupies this vacant position and guides Sayuri through her training.
Their relationship briefly becomes strained when Mameha suspects that Sayuri has lost her virginity to the baron, who is Mameha’s own danna. But when she finds out that the baron is willing to pay an exorbitant price for Sayuri’s mizuage (the ceremonial loss of virginity from an apprentice geisha to a patron), she realizes she made a mistake. As she tells Sayuri, no one would agree to pay so much money for something they have already taken. Even after the war, this bond remains intact between the two women, and Mameha helps Sayuri in his preparation to entertain Derricks.
Read more: The best WWII movies