of a Geisha
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, Ken Watanabe,
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Ted Levine
Released by: DreamWorks,
Short: This adaptation of the novel Memoirs
of a Geisha is a beautiful, but emotionally
empty, movie experience.
Pictures Are Not Enough
Going Into a "Geisha"
By Jenny Peters
for the screen adaptation of Arthur Golden’s lyrical
bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha were good, with
fast-moving previews making it look dazzling and pre-release
buzz touting it for multiple Oscar chances. Obviously,
they were counting on the pedigree of director Rob Marshall,
whose last film "Chicago" won six Academy Awards,
including Best Picture.
anticipation was high, which makes the sorry result so
sad. Yes, it is a gorgeous film to look at, with sweeping
vistas of the Japanese landscape and sets that evoke the Kyoto Gion district circa the 1930s
and 1940s. The costumes worn by the exotically beautiful
women are gorgeous as well, but the problem is that looks
is all this dreadfully dull film has going for it.
The characters are completely uninteresting,
with stereotypes abounding. There's the poor girl sold
into geisha slavery who blossoms into a rose; the wicked
slave owner, who actually sits and counts her money while
snapping a whip; the jealous fading beauty intent on sabotaging
the newcomer; and the protective mentor. They are all
characters we have seen in other movies, simply set in
a different atmosphere here. And the story is all too
familiar, except for the creepy twist of the central romance.
When Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) meets her lifelong love, she
is ten years old; he ("The Chairman") is about
forty. Then, when she grows up into the fabulous geisha
of the title, this same man pushes her into the arms of
his even older business partner rather than expressing
his love for her.
overlooking the fact that the Chairman seems like a lecherous
pedophile/pimp rather than a man deserving Sayuri's undying
love, the worst part is that there is no spark at all
to the proceedings. This romance is so enervated and emotionally
flat that by the time the protagonists finally get together,
we could care less and are practically in a coma of boredom.
author Golden tried to drive home the fact that geishas,
contrary to popular belief, weren’t prostitutes
but highly skilled artisans (versed in the arts of dance,
music, poetry, tea ceremony etc.), geisha culture still
boils down to a group of women (many forced to become
geishas in the first place) with the single goal of completely
pleasing any man who comes along with some ready cash.
And despite the film's insistence that selling sex is
not a key element of geisha culture, a central point revolves
around the auction of Sayuri's virginity to the highest
male bidder. That dichotomy is hard to overlook, despite
the pretty costumes and tea pouring.
jarring element of the film is the dialogue. It would
have been more believable to use subtitles than to have
the Asian cast (which is oddly enough made up of mostly
Chinese, not Japanese, actresses) obviously struggle with
the English dialogue. That intrusive reality consistently
takes the viewer out of the very Japanese setting, adding
to feelings of disappointment on just about every level
for this much-touted film.