Looking over previous comments here, it is clear that this is a very polarizing movie experience, one that seems to put "Syriana" to shame in that realm. Director Rob Marshall has taken a best selling novel and turned out a feature film that it appears some people love and some absolutely hate. Count me in the first category, but allow me to indulge the critics, too.
First, this isn't a typical Hollywood film. Despite popular western misconceptions about Geishas, there's no sex, almost no violence and beyond that, there's nearly two and a half hours of women's problems that many men may find hard to relate to. This is not "Desperate Housewives" or even "All my Children." This is about deceit, treachery and rivalries as much as it is about a little girl who gets sold into bondage by her impoverished Japanese family. Its also about a lifelong search for love in a society in which people apparently can't just step up and make frank declarations of devotion to one another. This movie is in a word "complicated" and that is going to turn some American movie goers off.
But not all Asian film fans are raving about this movie either, some thinking it is a very superficial look at Japnese customs and others incensed that a movie that's about an important Japanese tradition should star three Chinese actresses. I cannot comment on either topic, since I know little or nothing about Japanese tradition and I don't know why Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yoeh and Gong Li were cast. They have been seen before by American audiences, but are hardly film stars in this country, so it wasn't as if they were going to draw in tons of fans on their names alone.
The only thing I can think of is, all three are fine actresses and they more than proved that in this film. If Gong Li does not get a best supporting actress nomination, there's no justice. And Zhang should probably get a crack at best actress for her work, as well.
All three just light up the screen.
But, I can understand in this age of political correctness, how some would be offended by the casting and how others might complain about the handling of the Japanese subject matter.
All I can say is, movie makers face trade offs and one is either targeting your film to a mass audience (and in America, that means a generally poorly educated audience) or "narrow casting" your film to people very well acquainted with the topic who will swoop down on any flaw. But that, when dealing with a topic like Japanese geisha culture, is a pretty small audience in America, too small to generate the kind of box office a film like this needs to pull in to pay for itself. From a purely Anglo, American, unschooled in Japanese culture standpoint, I think Marshall made good decisions. I hope he has not slighted Japanese culture too much, but I think he has made a suspenseful, captivating, enchanting film that does something a lot of films haven't in recent years.
He gave us a complex central character we can pull for throughout the film and for that, I thank him.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" ranks among my five best films of the year thus far, and deserves a best picture nomination.
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