One of the most anticipated dramas of 2005 has been MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. The original buzz surrounded the fact that this best-selling novel was being adapted for the screen and that STEVEN SPIELBERG was slated as the director. That, of course, brought hopeful cheers that: one, the film would be worthy of the book and two, that the score would be written by long-time collaborator, JOHN WILLIAMS.
While Spielberg left the project, composer JOHN WILLIAMS stayed on board. Score buzz was heightened by the press release that not only YO YO MA would be featured in the score but also ITZHAK PERLMAN. With successful collaborations of SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET and SCHINDLER'S LIST under their belts, having Williams, Ma, and Perlman on one score was almost too much to hope for.
2005 may not be the strongest of years for clear-cut Oscar winning scores go; however, MEMOIRS OF GEISHA may the first that begs a serious nomination. Almost obligatorily, John Williams work for REVENGE OF THE SITH and WAR OF THE WORLDS will be in the Oscar mix, but MEMOIRS easily sets itself apart from either of these two adequate works. (Of course we've still yet to hear WILLIAMS fourth entry for the year, MUNICH!)
Interestingly enough the score bears some resemblence to moments of Tan Dun's Oscar-winning CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (which also featured Yo Yo Ma) but also Shigeru Umebayashi's exceptional score to HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. With these similarities in place, MEMOIRS OF GEISHA might not be heard as distinctly Japanese - which suits the film well in the ironic sense that two of the key female leads are not played by Japanese women at all: Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh. Still, the performances of Masakazu Yoshizawa on shakuhachi and Masayo Ishigure and Hiromi Hashibe on koto help seal the score as representing this uniquely Japanese tale.
What makes MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA stand out from many of JOHN WILLIAMS more recent works is the fact that it maintains it's strong sense of the Far East throughout...and only on occasion does Williams resort to implementing one of his many signature techniques of his latter career.
For those with an ear for Far-East-flavored scores, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is sure to delight. Fans of the work of JOHN WILLIAMS will likely find it a refreshing departure from the norm. As Mr. Williams has continued to "mature" in his compositional style, taking him away from some of the simplicities that made him famous, he has moved on to score more and more films which take advantage of his evolved talents. When all is said and done, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA may represent one of his finest latter works.