John Williams,
Memoirs of a Geisha
(Sony, 2005)

John Williams is one of the masters when it comes to composing and conducting soundtracks. In more than 45 years of making music for dozens and dozens of films, he has won five Oscars (Schindler's List, E.T., Star Wars, Jaws and Fiddler on the Roof)! In 2005, he worked on four soundtracks, including Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, War of the Worlds, Munich and the subject of this review, Memoirs of a Geisha.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film (and I can't imagine there are too many of you out there), it follows the life of a young peasant girl from a fishing village in Japan who is sold to a geisha house sometime in the early 1930s. Essentially a slave, this child grows up to be a most famous geisha. It seems that women in all societies can be competitive and cruel when it comes to getting what they want. The cat fights between these various rivals is not the main point of the film, however. This geisha, Sayuri, has fallen in love with a powerful businessman and vows, in her youth, to attain his affections in return. You will have to watch the film to see if she reaches her goal or not.

As a period piece set in Japan, it won't surprise readers to know that the soundtrack has both an Asian and classical feel to it. What might entice some folks is knowing that two great musicians perform on the soundtrack. Yo-Yo Ma is a household name when it comes to cello playing. Violin aficionados need no introduction to the talents of Itzhak Perlman. Together, these artists help create a CD that should appeal to those who are not even particularly interested in soundtracks.

As with most soundtracks, there is a thread, a theme, that is repeated throughout the tracks. "Sayuri's Theme" is a delicate, melancholic melody that, in my opinion, helps this album rise above being simply a soundtrack. It is touching, sorrowful and full of longing. This theme helps the CD stand on its own merits.

While the violin and cello dominate, the accompanying flutes, drums and koto fill the music with layers that are actually more enjoyable without the film. Don't get me wrong. I think this soundtrack truly complemented the movie. I simply think one can enjoy the soundtrack even without having seen Memoirs of a Geisha.

So, we have a soundtrack created by one of the truly brilliant composers in this genre. We have musicians that are arguably the top talent on their respective instruments. We have a beautiful theme that carries a CD beyond just being a soundtrack. So what are the negatives of owning the Memoirs of a Geisha? I will confess that there are a few tracks (out of 18) that are obviously filler, or background noise, to help convey emotion for specific scenes in the film. However, they are not enough to detract from an otherwise entrancing instrumental experience.

Even if you have never heard of John Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman or Memoirs of a Geisha, if you enjoy classical sounding music with an Asian flair, I think you will be pleased with what you hear on this soundtrack.

by Wil Owen
1 July 2006

Buy it from