Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Movie Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

I was not particularly keen on seeing this. It's not that I only like big blockbuster action films, after all I raved about Constant Gardener, it's more that I wasn't in the mood. Plus, I know it's the second film to be directed by Rob Marshall, whose only other directing credit was for Chicago...which I thought was awful. Also, I was tired, fell asleep during my second viewing of Underowlrd Evolution the night before and have a ton of work that I really should have been getting on with at home. But still, having been accused on many occasions of refusing to see films that my wife wants to see, I felt duty bound to sit through this. I'm glad I did.

The film has had seriously mixed reviews. Based on a novel by Arthuer Golden, it tells the story of a young girl who is sold to a Geisha house and fights to find love and independence against a backdrop of misery and abuse. Set in mid 20th Century Japan, some have criticised the film for casting three Chinese women in the three leading female parts. Others have criticised its highly idealised depiction of a Japan that never really existed. Yet more have criticised the decision to have the cast deliver their lines in a heavily accented English. I have to confess that I viewed this film from an entirely Western perspective am not possibly qualified to criticise it on any of these grounds. I was not aware that the actresses were Chinese, and have no idea why they were cast instead of Japanese actresses. From my point of view, it doesn't matter, and didn't affect my enjoyment of the film one bit. As for the depiction of Japan...this is Hollywood, Americans struggle to depict their own culture and country accurately. I've learnt to live with Hollywood's depiction of Britain and British life and to just enjoy the story. I've also had to put up with Hollywood casting Irishmen to play Scots, the Welsh to play English, etc, etc. Considering the fact that of the actors that have played that great English icon James Bond, one has been Scottish and another Irish, I think we just have to accept that Hollywood is just like that. As for the final point about the accents...well...I would agree that at times it seems a little odd, but in general it's not too jarring. It's clear that this film is portraying a very Western view of the "Mysteries of the Orient" and as such, it succeeds. It's not supposed to be a realistic portrayal and shouldn't be judged as such.

Most reviews I've read have focused on Ziyi Zhang's portrayal of the adult Sayuri, which is outstanding, but it is as a child that we first get to know this woman and become engaged in her story. The young Suzuka Ohgo is captivating as the little girl who is sold without knowing what is happening to her. Feel and understand her pain as she is seperated from her sister and thrust into a totally alien environment. An environment where she is hated by older Geisha Hatsumomo (Li Gong) purely because she is pretty, and therefore a threat.

The plot is complex and winding often leading us down the path of despair as we believe that all of Sayuri's hopes of being with the Chairman, the object of her affections, have been dashed forever. Ken Watanabe is, as always, outstanding in this role. Of course, the presence of Watanabe-San in any film is a cue for my wife to spend the whole movie sighing.

The real outstanding set-piece moment in this film comes when Sayuri performs a dance in the theatre. This is an attempt to make her the most desirable Geisha in Japan, so that she will attract the highest bidder for her virginity. This partiular subject is handled very tastefully, with an incredible degree of subtlety. The entire film is very tastefully done, considering the subject matter, with no sex and no nudity. Returning to the dance - it is purely breathtaking as she dances in a rain of petals, with a particularly effective lighting effect at the end of the dance, as the petals turn red and look like a rain of blood.

The entire film is beautifully shot and wonderuflly acted and really should be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. This is another film to take your other half to and rack up loads of brownie points for seeing a movie they want to see, while thoroughly enjoying it yourself!

Rating: 9/10

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