Memoirs of a Geisha - Review
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Rob Marshall And John De Luca Audio Commentary; Sayuris Journey From Novel To Screen; Geisha Bootcamp; The Look Of A Geisha; The World Of The Geisha.
ROB Marshall looks to follow up the success of his first film, Chicago, with the equally lavish Memoirs of a Geisha, based on the best-selling book of the same name.
But while it is both visually sumptuous and offers an intriguing look at a hidden culture, the film’s central love story is so understated that it fails to hold any real emotional resonance.
The film picks up in pre-war Japan as a young girl (Suzuka Ohgo) is sold into a geisha house against her will and forced to undergo the many trials set before her.
She immediately makes an enemy of the house’s most popular geisha, the treacherous Hatsumomo (Gong Li) and finds herself relegated to the role of cleaning lady when an attempt to escape fails.
But the girl is rescued from the depths of her despair by a kindly stranger (Ken Watanabe’s The Chairman), whom she immediately falls in love with and devotes her life to impressing.
Hence, the girl in question grows up to become Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), one of the most celebrated geishas in Kyoto, who benefits from the tutoring of the sly but sophisticated Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) who has her own reasons for ensuring Sayuri’s success.
As part of her role as geisha, however, Sayuri must auction her mizuage (virginity) to wealthy gentlemen patrons and is dismayed to find that the man who shows most interest is the best friend and business colleague of The Chairman – making the chances of their own liaison even more remote.
But such forbidden love is dangerous, particularly as her enemies would seek to exploit it for their own gain should it ever be discovered.
Memoirs of a Geisha works best when exploring the politics between the women, especially during the interplay between Zhang, Yeoh and Li.
Zhang, especially, manages to combine a sense of shyness and vulnerability with longing and determination to present a suitably complex character – an achievement made all the more notable given that she couldn’t speak much English before winning the role.
But she is matched by Yeoh’s sophisticated turn as the more experienced Mameha and by Li’s wonderfully scheming Hatsumomo.
The film loses its way slightly when dealing with the love affair especially since the charismatic Watanabe isn’t afforded the screen-time his character feels like he deserves.
As a result, the love story lacks the dramatic impetus it merits and renders the conclusion slightly underwhelming.
Part of this is due to the fact that Marshall has been forced to cut out large sections of the text to condense it into a movie but it may leave mainstream audiences craving something more.
What it lacks in romance, however, it more than makes up for in look and insight, paying close attention to detail and remaining careful not to dishonour the culture it portrays.
As a result, audiences should find themselves suitably absorbed, esepcially during the set pieces that are staged with the same flair that Marshall brought to Chicago.
The result is a film that rewards the patient viewer in unexpected ways making it a different sort of blockbuster than the one they may have been expecting.
Running time: 2hrs 25mins