10 December 2005 | jotix100
Arthur Golden's novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" deserved a better fate. This immensely satisfying book got a tepid adaptation by Robin Swicord and Doug Wright, and it begs for a better screen play than what was chosen to be shown on the screen. Director Bob Marshall's next venture after his successful and popular "Chicago" seemed, at least on paper, like the right candidate to be in command of the film version of the book, but what he has created seems to have become an oriental soap opera, at best.
The story is narrated in the first person by Sayuri who has been sold by their impoverished father. The novel is a chronicle of how Sayuri learns to become a geisha and her rivalry with the queen of them all, Hatsumomo. Also it is about the relationship between Suyuri and the Chairman. Hatsumomo's competition is the beautiful Mameha, who takes Suyuri under her wing and shows her the ropes. The Chairman and Nobu are the men in and out of this story who change Suyuri's life for the best.
The casting of Ziyi Zhang as Suyuri doesn't pay off. Ms. Zhang is a beautiful creature to look at, but in this film, her acting appears to be empty, in sharp contrast with her appearance in "2046". Gong Li, another beautiful woman, appears in all her fury to challenge her position as the queen that she has always been when Sayuri comes on her own. She is a caricature of the character that she is trying to portray, no doubt guided by the director, in a performance that seems campy in its flavor. Michelle Yeoh, Ken Watanabe and Koji Yakusho do what they can in a film where the center of attraction are Ms. Zhang and Ms. Li.
The basic flaw of the film is the dialogue that feels so foreign it might have been written in another language. The different accents of the cast doesn't help matters because they speak in a sort of British English that is a distraction. The wonderful costumes are by Colleen Atwood who dresses the women in silks and makes them look fantastic. The cinematography of Dion Beebe is an asset too. The haunting musical score is by John Williams, a man who knows how to enhance a film with the right sounds.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" under the direction of Rob Marshall is a spectacle directed to fans of the book, who will surely flock to see the film, but alas, they will not find the essence of Mr. Golden's novel in the finished product.