In 1920s Japan, 9-year-old Chiyo and her sister, Satsu, are sold to pay off their impoverished families debts. Chiyo is purchased by a Geisha house, while Satsu is sent off to a brothel. At the Geisha house, Chiyo encounters the ruthless Hatsumomo, who, fearing that the young girl will grow up to replace her, makes her life a living hell. All this cruelty nearly breaks Chiyo, until, one day, she is shown a small act of kindness by The Chairman, played by Ken Watanabe. This motivates Chiyo to become a Geisha, and she spends the next several years training in the art of music, dance, and conversation. Finally, after her instruction is complete, Chiyo becomes Sayuri, a Geisha of incredible beauty and influence. She even finds The Chairman again, who claims not to recognize her after all these years. Things are looking up, until World War 2 breaks out, sending Chiyo’s life, once more, into turmoil.