This film, based on the novel by Arthur Golden, unfolds from the perspective of Chiyo (Zhang Ziyi), a girl who, at the age of nine, is sold to a geisha house in Kyoto in the early 1930s. Here, she learns that becoming a geisha can be the single path to wealth and independence for a woman. The head geisha of her house, however, Hatsumomo (Gong Li), is bitterly jealous of Chiyo and abuses her at every opportunity. Eventually Chiyo is taken under the wing of Hatsumomo's rival, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), by far the most famous and successful geisha in their district. Under Mameha's tutelage, Chiyo becomes Sayuri, the most legendary geisha in the nation, skilled in all areas, from conversation to dance, and sought after by seemingly every man alive...except for the one whom she has secretly longed for since she began her training, The Chairman (Ken Watanabe) -- a man who showed her kindness at a time when her view of the world had turned the most bleak. Now as World War II approaches, Japan stands at the brink of a new era and Sayuri must confront the possibility that history will leave all that she has worked for behind.