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  • 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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Asian dramas -- even the ones involving fantasy fighting -- have a certain lushness and a complex texture that I believe only Asian directors can truly capture. So having Rob Marshall, a very American director, step in, is a risk, and for two-thirds of the picture he mutes the frenetic editing and lurid visuals used in CHICAGO, slows the pace of the narration, and achieves the goal in making his vision look as authentic as possible.

    MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA has a lot of Charles Dickens in its storyline. The tale of Chiyo, the little girl who is sold by her mother to a geisha house, her trials and tribulations, her knowledge and yearning of true love and success as a geisha is almost identical to the Dickensian universe. It even evolves in a similar manner, and its more effective moments are the ones involving Chiyo as a girl (Suzuka Ohgo) becoming friends (and later enemies) with Pumpkin, not understanding why she is in this strange house, why she has been separated from her sister whom she frantically tries to seek out, or why the geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li) is so mean to her. One touching scene, which becomes the focus of Chiyo's drive, is when she encounters this "prince" of a man, the Chairman (Ken Watanabe). The smile he coaxes out her sad face is the most luminous moment in the entire film, and this event makes Chiyo want to become a better person and reunite with the Chairman. They do meet later on, but the movie mutes their romance after she becomes the geisha Sayori (Zhang Ziyi), and in trying to keep him distant in a casual way -- they don't share as much as a stilted conversation -- somewhat works against the believability of their mutual but restrained love.

    What does work is the subtext within the relationships between the two other women and Sayori, intended or not. Hatsumomo explodes in rage against Sayori after being successfully put down the night of her debut that has hints a little of repressed lesbianism. Notice the way Hatsumomo lashes out like a snake: it also seems as if she would be ready to kiss her at any second. Also noteworthy is the relationship that Sayori develops with her mentor Mameha (Michelle Yeoh). I loved it because I've seen Ziyi and Yeoh play rivals in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and it was great to see them interact in a completely different way, one that indicates Mameha was the replacement for the sister Sayori lost, one who also lost a chance at love and happiness, and who only knows the life of a geisha.

    Where the film falters, somewhat, is in trying to tie in all of the story lines once the last half hour arrives. The invasion of World War II, while intending to show how times change and traditions morph, somehow didn't work on film as it must have on paper. I also felt that Pumpkin's late introduction as a very American-friendly whore with double intentions could have been handled better and seemed to belong in another movie with comic overtones. Granted that her character had becomes, as the mistress of the geisha house had predicted, Hatsumomo's puppet via her actions, but I felt it slowed the story down a little. Another character who did an about-face was Nobu's (Koji Yakusho). There was little-to-no indication he had any interest in Sayori and more than once he rebuffed her or looked bored by her. His sudden declaration of love comes too abrupt and I didn't quite buy it. But it's the problem with staying too close to the source material: sometimes you have to tweak it a little while maintaining its essence.

    As usual, there is some fantastic subtle acting from the three leading ladies, all film veterans in their native China and Malaysia, as well as in Ken Watanabe and Koji Yakusho. Yes, it's thirty minutes too long. Yes, the love story is marginal at best. And yes, it would have benefited better had it been done in its native tongue with subtitles, but that would have been at the expense of it having limited availability. However, it is a sumptuous, gorgeous film about the triumph of the spirit of this one girl against the odds around her. And it even has a happy ending.
  • I lived in Japan for 3 years and I loved the book, rich with visual imagery. I went to the see the movie with a good deal of trepidation, convinced that they were going to butcher it and sex it up to appeal to American audiences. Instead I sat spellbound in my seat as I watched the images that Arthur Golden has created in my mind with words years before, play themselves out on the screen in front of me. Every shot, ever scene, every tiny detail was just beautiful. I literally did not look away from the screen the entire time. The acting wasn't spectacular. I think they could have found somebody better to play Sayuri. The children were all wonderful. The stand-out actress by far was Gong Li as Hatsumomo. The villain had the best opportunities to show her skills as a thespian. The plot stuck very closely to the book. They eliminated the scenes that they needed to in the interest of time, but they didn't try to take any shortcuts or speed up the plot. I really felt like the story was played out beginning to end without sacrificing any of the meat. You'll read a lot of reviews in the coming weeks praising the gorgeous photography. Every word is true. Words like "lush" and "exquisite" only begin to do it justice. I've never had the experience of being transported to another time by a movie in quite this way.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Memoirs of a Geisha" is a love story that remains tedious and distant from being an epic love story on scale with Casabalanca, Dr. Zhivago, or even Titanic…

    The story follows one particular Japanese peasant girl whose father sends her and her sister to a famous geisha house… Her less attractive sister is sent away to a house of prostitution, and Chiyo is given domestic tasks until the time when she can be trained to be a geisha….

    Naturally, the main appeal of the film is the glimpse into the true nature of the geisha… How a geisha becomes a pinnacle of elegance and class, a master of entertainment and a royal agent of many gentle graces, how she sells her skills and not her body, how she can be the keeper of traditional arts, and how she can stop a man in his tracks with only one look… Yet the film postulates that a geisha's ultimate goal is her debut as a flamboyant dancer, sell her virginity, and pride herself on being well paid for it…

    The film's photography is outstanding, the music score is inventive, the editing is concise and timed perfectly, and Ziyi Zhang overflows with sensitivity, delicacy, and sensuality…

    Zhang has "the sea in her eyes." She is fascinating as the lovely heroine, the tender mood of every man, the quality of being graceful, the gentlemen's companion enclosed by an ever-changing Japan towards the start of World War II… The apprentice courtesan stretches the limits of realism for her lifelong devotion to a mysterious wealthy benefactor whose kindness to Sayuri as a child left a lasting impression… Sayuri preferred not to insist on her affection, even when time and circumstance conspire to take her away from the man she loves for years at a time, and was subjected to dramatic situations by the rivalry between the opposing Geisha houses…

    "Memoirs of a Geisha" does not submit all its secrets on first viewing; there are many layers of meaning and mystery to be seen again and again… Best of all, here is a movie that honors small acts of kindness as the most precious thing we can cherish forever… Marshall's film invited us into a hidden and fragile world of traditional arts and culture where agony and beauty live side by side
  • personally, i don't know what everyone was so anxious about before viewing this movie. i had heard a lot of praise about the cinematography and the depth and emotion of the storyline. who cares if the actors were of different race? i know a lot of people will take offense to that, but being an Asian-American myself, it didn't bother me too much, since it wasn't what i thought of while watching the movie. who has time to think of different dialects and someone being Chinese when a beautiful story of the life of a geisha is being told.

    i thought maybe the movie would not live up to the book, but i felt the adaptation was done well. although some of the casting could have been done better, i got chills from mother, angry at hatsumomo, and grew respect for the character of mameha, just as i had from the book. the movie did a fine job establishing the highly disciplined world of a geisha, a world where many sacrifices are to be made.

    all in all, the movie was fantastic, and if people could just look beyond the issue of worrying about the nationality of a character who is supposed to be Japanese (and to me, its not a huge issue) I'm sure you will enjoy the movie.
  • Going into the film, I had worries with all the slamming critics have given, even though I didn't read all of them in details. However, I'm happy to say it turns out to be one of more satisfying movie experiences of the year.

    First I echo the sentiment that the film is simply technically perfect. The retro-mood it created had me immensed in the world of geisha from beginning to the end. It's very 1930 Shanghai like. The music score isn't as haunting as the one in CTHD, but it is still masterfully composed and fits in the background very well. It's worth seeing for the big screen experience alone. The story also never dragged, as each of the three parts flowed nicely. I normally don't like voice-over, but here it really held the movie together and helped to move the story along.

    As for the accents, the problem has definitely been exaggerated. I was expecting a lot of unpleasant broken English to be spoken, but they all sounded fine to good, not just from the most fluent Michelle Yeoh, but Ken Watanabe, Youki Kudoh (who plays Pumpkin) and other supporting casts. Gong Li had a few awkward lines at the beginning, and Ziyi had more and is the one who had to try the hardest, but both pulled off admirably and didn't hurt their performances in the process.

    Talking about performances, I think almost all of them did well. It's much more of an ensemble piece, and I was especially impressed by the young Sayuri and Ken Watanabe.

    The main problem I have is with character development. It is a Cinderella story at heart, but the good and evil are too clear-cut and lack dimension. I also want to see more ups and downs for the competition between Ziyi and Gong Li. Gong did all she could, but the script didn't allow her to be a worthy opponent. Except for some verbal back-and-forth between the two and a few dirty tricks from Gong, there was no reason to believe why she was the most famous geisha in Japan before Ziyi arrived.

    In addition, the Mother character is over-the-top and didn't fit the emotional aspect the film quite well, although she did provide some comical moments. The big dance scene had excellent buildup, but the execution of the dance felt flat. It lasted only about 30 seconds, while doubling that and making it more mesmerizing would have made the whole middle act more effective.

    These flaws didn't overshadow the fact that what was put on screen worked for me. Will I be willing to watch it again with friends? In a heartbeat. Will I recommend it to others? Definitely. With that in mind, I give the film an A-.
  • soupdragon3771313 February 2006
    I was initially dubious about going to see this film after I read a lot of mixed reviews. However, I am glad that I decided to just bite the bullet and go see it. This is one of the most visually stunning and entrancing films I have ever seen, with a wonderful storyline which had me clutching the edge of my seat in sheer frustration! I absolutely loved the love story that was central to the film, although I was a bit worried by the age gap. lol. It made me really want a snow cone though. I thought Zhang Ziyi was fantastic in the part of Sayuri, and she made the character very endearing and real. I am a big fan of Ken Watanabe, and it was good to see him in a part like this; the relationship was very believable and I thought they were both great. In fact, all the actors in this film did their characters justice and helped to make the film as beautiful and Oscar-worthy as it is. I just loved the story and all the sets that provided a wonderful backdrop for such an emotional, powerful tale. I recommend this to everyone! It's THAT good!
  • Can a group of American men and Chinese actresses render the world of a Japanese geisha? The answer is yes, with stunning beauty … and regrettable flaws.

    Truth be told, this movie was not as bad as its trailer led me to expect it to be. It had a story to tell (although it crumbles in the end),images to show, and material to present. There were ample displays of exquisite beauty -- the trailing tails of silk kimonos, the subtle allure of hand gestures, and the captivating scene of kabuki dance theater ...

    On the other hand, the American director was not able to pull the Japanese out of Chinese actresses. (This movie was so crowded by famous Chinese idols that I found myself inadvertently searching for Joan Chen among the cast.) To be fair, all three main actors (Gong Li in particular) show strong performances that made me sympathetic to Rob Marshall's choices. However, they remain utterly Chinese throughout this movie. The look and accent are not the only problems. They lacked the kind of extreme femininity and excessive felicity of the delicately mechanical gesture and movements of traditional Japanese ladies you see in custom dramas of Japanese production. (Michelle Yeoh seems to be the only one trying a little bit of those, but it did not quite work for some reason.)

    So, let me re-address the question: Can a group of American men and Chinese actresses render the world of a geisha? The answer, I guess, really depends on what you are looking for. If you would like a little bit of delight from an aesthetically pleasing picture with a dubious authenticity and realism, this movie delivers it. I would not say Rob Marshall failed completely. Memoirs of a Geisha is not the first, nor the last, movie that subjects another culture to the crude lens of American exoticism. It definitely is not the worst one.
  • Took a mainstream book full of falsehoods and fantasy, which is fine after all it is fiction, changed it for the worse, cast a bunch of Chinese actresses and put them in a kimono and sold to Western audiences as Japanese!!!!! Voila millions of people now feel they know Japanese culture and admire it. Shame on all the Chinese pretending they are Japanese. I guess they have no right to complain about racism now. The scene where the child is crying is crowded with half a dozen Chinese actors and actresses. Come to think of it is no different than all the Chinese sushi restaurants.
  • This is the most unfairly maligned film of the year. Some critics took it upon themselves to be the defenders of Japanese culture (without fully researching their arguments) and, in the process, betrayed their own racism. "The film is inauthentic because the actresses do not wear matronly bouffants," one said. Riiiiiight. Matronly bouffants are a Western stereotype! But in any case, some of them do and some don't! THAT'S authenticity. I guess critics wouldn't know that writing reviews without seeing the film or walking out long before it's over (some, such as Jeff Wells, do).

    Anyway, it's a fantastic film and more than deserving of multiple Academy award nominations - which it may not get thanks to the fact that so many people decided they wanted to use the film as the sacrificial lamb for a half-baked debate about international politics, rather consider that pan-Asian casting for major roles is NOTHING new (it's true of House of Flying Daggers, The Joy Luck Club and even Crouching Tiger) and that this film's production might represent international cooperation at its best.

    Look out for Gong Li and Youki Kudoh in RICHLY developed supporting roles. The supporting males, while obviously not as well developed since they spend less time in the geisha quarters, still give incredible performances. Ken Watanabe was excellent, but I particularly enjoyed the performance of the actor playing Nobu. Oprah is right about the sets and costumes; they (amongst other things) make you want to savor every moment of the film. Some people have argued that the brilliant colors make it seem like some sort of Orientalist fantasy. Truth is that this would only be the case if we saw a departure from a more sedate West to a flamboyant East; instead, the film opens in a rather sedate part of Japan and then takes us to the more colorful geisha district (which introduces this fascinating paradox of great suffering in a milieu of tremendous beauty). We know from Chicago that it's simply Rob Marshall's aesthetic to make everything the height of beauty, even if it's a slum. God forbid ENTERTAINMENT CIRCLES should be presented as visually spectacular! The film is by turns funny, moving and, yes, thrilling. Gasps in the audience for the film's third act gave way to sniffles. Ziyi Zhang really managed any language difficulties well; her face has this ripple effect when she's emoting. It's stunning to behold. If I were voting for the Oscars, I'd definitely give her a nomination at the very least. And homegirl can dance, too! Her performance and the film itself are not boring at all; audience members laughed when she was trying to be funny and sighed when she was suffering. IMO, too much happens in the film for it to get boring; there's a strong balance between the rivalries, the details about geisha entertainment and the romance. In the final scene, it all comes full circle. I won't tell you how. See for yourself.

    My #1 film of the year. Brokeback Mountain, Chronicles of Narnia, Howl's Moving Castle, King Kong and Grizzly Man aren't far behind.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Just as "The last samurai" is Hollywood's imagination of what the world of samurai and bushido is like, "Memoirs of a geisha" is Hollywood's imagination of the world of geisha. Both are way off the mark.

    I have not read the book, but can only hope that it does not descend to the brainless depiction of geisha as glorified prostitutes who can also entertain with dancing and singing, but nothing more. For better insight, watch "My Geisha" (1962) staring two of the best stars we've ever had, Shirley MacCaine and Yves Montand. A true geisha is trained to be an all-round companion fitting for the most sophisticated environment, able to hold an intelligent conversation as easily on international finance and as on the Major League, and any subject in-between.

    Turning to the movie, enough have been said elsewhere about the art direction ("It's not a movie, it's a fashion show" quipped Philadelphia Weekly). I'll concentrate on the acting, but not before straightening out another muddled thinking that comes up in almost every discussion of this movie – the language barrier.

    Some contend that because the actresses portray Japanese, inadequate English such as ZHANG Ziyi's is acceptable. In that line of reasoning, you can't find thinking that is more muddled. In Doctor Zhivago, everybody is supposed to be speaking Russian. In the Hollywood movie, English is the proxy for Russian and there's nothing wrong with it. But it's NOT about Russians speaking English. It's about Russians speaking fluent Russian, only that it's presented to the movie audience in English. There is absolutely no excuse for the English we hear in Dr. Zhivago to be less than perfectly fluent.

    It's exactly the same situation with "Memoirs". Zhang speaking in broken English means that her character Sayuri speaks in broken Japanese, which is totally inconceivable. What is even worse is that of the three lead actresses, while the English of ZHANG Ziyi and GONG Li is severely limited, Michelle Yeoh's English is her mother tongue, or at least one of her mother tongues. This results in an inconsistency that is almost painful to behold (or to hear, to be exact). One would almost wish that Yeoh would lower her level of English to match with the other two's so that the inconsistency wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb every time she has a dialogue with them.

    Another way of looking at this is that Zhang and Gong perform with a handicap, which can be interpreted as a compliment. Consider the last scene when Sayuri delivers her long-awaited expression of love to The Chairman, something to the effect that ever since meeting him on the bridge, she has been focusing her life on moving towards him. I'm sure someone told Zhang what the English words she spoke means but there is absolutely no conviction in her annunciation of the words, which came out almost like a jumble of meaningless sounds. I don't blame her for that because it takes time to fully immerse in a new language. Her good acting (facial expression etc) actually salvages the situation a little bit.

    As to the rest of the cast, despite the high praises Gong receives, she has not really been challenged in this movie, being given a somewhat stereotyped role. Her recent role in "Eros" offers considerably more. Michelle Yeoh, beautiful as she is, looks too modern and "western" to be a geisha. But these three are not the only, or even the most interesting, women to watch. The owner of the geisha house is marvellously well played. It's very easy to succumb to turning this role into a comical, lifeless caricature. The actress playing this role did a superb job in making this a character of flesh and blood, someone that you can understand, albeit despise a little. Playing Pumpkin is Youki Kudoh who had proved that she could act, way back in Snow Falling on Cedars (1999). Best of all, however, is Suzuka Ohgo who plays Chiyo, that is, young Saruyi.

    As to the men, it's interesting to see the two key player swapping roles. Typical gentleman Koji Yakusho (Shall we dansu, Lost paradise, The eel, Warm water under a red bridge) now plays the uncouth Nobu while macho Ken Watanabe (The last samurai) is the gentle "Chairman". All goes to show how versatile these two actors are.

    All told, "Memoirs" is an entertaining movie, but a little too long. The early portion on the childhood of Saruyi (when she was called Chiyo) can but cut down, but then Suzuka Ohgo is so good! The main section is melodramatic, and okay if you like that sort of thing. The last part offers some nice (and mild) surprises, but it's certainly sweet to see the fulfilment of the little girl's initial infatuation, which became her entire purpose of life. No harm in romanticising a little – it's Hollywood after all. But the language problem really takes a lot away. If I had a choice, I would rather see it in Japanese, with subtitles.
  • thomasreeve22 November 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    Just returned from a BAFTA preview screening of Memoirs of a Geisha, and it's certainly the best film I've seen this year so far (and there isn't exactly long left.) The performances are outstanding, everything about the physical setting and cinematography is breathtaking, and it's emotionally rich without feeling twee or sentimental.

    The Q&A session also reinforced the fact that, despite this being an American-produced film of a novel by an American author, a great deal of both research, training and supervision on-set went into making, for example, the movements of the geisha as authentic as possible. The issue of non-Japanese actors playing Japanese roles was also addressed - Rob Marshall (the director) stated quite plainly that, as far as he was concerned, he wanted the best actors for the parts - I'm perfectly happy to give him the benefit of the doubt here, as the members of the cast in question acted their socks off. The reaction has, apparently, been equally positive in Japan, where actors like Ziyi Zhang are anything but unknown.

    Certainly if you want to see a beautiful, thoughtful, emotional film centred around a little-understood but fascinating aspect of Japanese culture, see this as soon as possible.
  • With all of the negative reviews in my mind as I walked into the theatre, I braced myself for the worst. It turns out that my opinion of the film that seemed to raise so much controversy over casting and language fell in line with neither the vehemently negative, nor the positive accolades of the critics who hail it as one of the best films of the year. Instead, I left the theater feeling ambivalent, not quite sure to sing its praises or to decry it completely.

    One thing is for sure, the film is gorgeous. There are scenes where the colour seems to bleed off the screen, and some just look like portraits. That being said, the film seems to have forgotten subtlety as a facet of art. Memoirs of a Geisha feels like a distinctly American period film, a fabrication marked by artificiality. Instead of using the actors as a vehicle for conveyance, our eyes are instead drawn to the set design, the framing, the cinematography (at least, for me).

    Everyone is probably sick of all the discussions about the casting of Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, and Li Gong, but I'm going to raise it again. As a Chinese-American, it was strange for me to see three actors who don't look Japanese play the part of the geisha. Additionally, the fact that the film is in English also proved problematic because although Michelle Yeoh's English is quite polished, Li Gong and Zhang Ziyi's English is definitely not. Much of the time, I was struggling to understand what they were saying (a gripe that I've seen mentioned by many others). The inconsistency of the dialogue (e.g., different accents from different characters, sporadic Japanese words during English conversation between characters)detracted from the film for me, because I had to keep asking myself, "Why is this not in Japanese?" In the end, the film feels like a cup of instant ramen. It's satisfying and tasty when the hunger pangs strike, but an hour later, you're left wondering why you didn't just go for something a little more substantial than freeze-dried noodles in a broth made from water and MSG. Memoirs of a Geisha is an entertaining film, but I don't think I could sit through it again.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Arthur Golden studied in Japan, gathering information for Memoirs of a Geisha, and spoke with Iwasaki Mineko, a retired geiko (geisha). Mineko-san talked with Golden for hours, telling him her life story, answering her every question, on one condition: that she remain anonymous. But Arthur Golden did not keep her concealed. No, at the end of his book, he credited her as his 'inspiration'. But did he stop there? No. He told the public that Mineko-san sold her virginity for a record price, which she did not. Mizuage, which Golden portrays as a ceremonial deflowering of the young geisha, was actually a right of passage where a young geisha's hair was cut. From then on she would wear a wig while performing, and it symbolized maturity. Mizuage was never sexual for geisha. The only time mizuage was a sexual term, was when it referred to Oiran or Tayuu (Japanese courtesans). Perhaps this is a cause of some confusion. But what saddens me, is that Golden, a Harvard grad, had the potential to write an accurate book about geisha. But I suppose he was willing to trade honesty for cash and publicity, like most of us these days. And, because of him, many geisha today must explain to foreigners that their services do not include sex. I really hope to shed led on the dishonesty of Memoirs, both film and book.
  • Lavish cinematography means 'Memoirs of a Geisha' is never anything less than visually beautiful, and it's hard to think of how any other movie could beat it to an Oscar in this department come March next year. However, the true merit of the film lies in the fact that its sumptuous style does not outweigh substance, something particularly thankful given that such an imbalance was so unfortunately true of House of Flying Daggers, the last major release to star Ziyi Zhang. Instead, the truly enchanting performance of 12-year old Suzaka Oghu, who plays the young Sayuri for the first half hour, ensures attention is captured within her character's story for the rest of the drama. This allows the script to remain pleasingly understated, and also means the unlikely nature of the romance can be overlooked.

    The hibernation that the story withdraws into during the wartime years could so easily have been damaging, but in the event the portrayal of how the post-war influx of American troops corrupted Japan's ancient traditions is just as excellent as the rest of the film.
  • It would be lovely to find a beautiful verse for the spirit of a Geisha's Memoirs.

    The butterfly is perfuming - It's wings in the scent - Of the orchid.

    This haiku (a 17 syllable epigrammatic verse) by one of Japan's greatest poets (Basho Matsuo) seems at first glance to have little to it. So runs much of Japanese art, perfected to painstaking rules, yet requiring a degree of learning simply to appreciate, soul-piercing when understood. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we must be forgiven for expecting a glimpse, some aid to understanding, some hint of passion, for the difficult-to-fathom and obscure world of Japan, of geisha, representatives of artistic excellence and recipients of passionate devotion, and maybe some reference to what was a less glamorous side to their institution (and one personified in the Western stereotype).

    The filmmakers went to considerable lengths - top Asian actors, a decorated director and cinematographer, music by the multi-accoladed John Williams; and the film follows on from the hugely successful novel. So does it stand up?

    Firstly, it is visually stunning, not only with rural and urban scenery rarely seen in the West but with impressive use of colour and lighting. In one scene, as Sayuri makes her debut in a leading part at the theatre, we are treated to a fabulous dramatic entrance suggesting classical posture and make-up. It is the bright lights and fast cameras that director Rob Marshall used to such effect in Chicago. We follow a young girl from the time she is sold by her parents, through her apprenticeship and graduation as a geisha, and then through the onset of war and its aftermath. It has the exotic appeal of, say, the King and I or other successful movies that use an unknown culture to bring spice to a simple love story. It will delight many audiences. But as anything more serious it plummets as fast as a wingless bird.

    Although there are moments of tension, such as the theatre performance, the sumo wrestling match or the jealous rage of a competitor geisha, much of the pacing (especially in the first third) is lacklustre, like someone telling a story at a continuous speed (much of the background is told in voice-over). Opportunities for dramatic excitement are easily missed with such a format. Telling the story takes much time: there is little left for character development, so it is hard to identify with the pain and triumphs of even our heroine.

    A very modest brush with Japanese culture shows this movie lacks authenticity in its most crucial aspects. You cannot cast a film star in a part that requires a lifetime study or the equivalent of a university degree without considerable technical finesse. It would be like asking Richard Gere to dance a couple of scenes from Nureyev. But it gets worse. Everyday details are sloppy and unreflective of Japanese culture. Most obvious perhaps, the make-up employed by the film's 'geisha' is instantly recognisable as quite ordinary, not the sort that takes hours to apply.

    In A Beautiful Mind, director Ron Howard took a mysterious subject (mathematics) and made it exciting to non-mathematicians. Other directors have dealt similarly with obscure arts or strange worlds and let us glimpse hitherto unknown regions, often adding a love story for good measure. Producer Steven Spielberg however, (in the film's production notes) confesses to a different objective: "I was very moved by the love story, by the rivalry . . . and by the test of friendship." Japanese culture is mentioned only in passing. The aim was not to introduce us to something new but something that's "relevant to people in every county."

    They gave up before they started. Instead of highly developed Japanese traditions, we get lowest common denominators, and even the 'love story' fails to pass muster as the context (a society in those days of arranged marriages) is imperfectly explained. It could be in America – just change the country, add a mix of oriental costumes and languages, plus homage to a well-known book (and lots of highly paid talent that sadly lacks artistic integrity) and you have a winning Hollywood formula.

    It is one thing to 'include' lurid details such auctioning a maidenhead – it is another thing altogether to miss the main point.

    But has the movie really missed such an opportunity? It might be worth examining, even to see if this film is actually an insult to Japanese culture.

    Ancient Japanese entertainers would perform for the nobility and some females even became concubines to the emperor. The first female geisha were simply dancers or musicians. They soon became popular enough to be able to steal clients from courtesans. They flourished as artists and entertainers and soon became fashion leaders – a bit like western 'supermodels.' In today's Japan, geishas are accorded considerable respect for their accomplishments and what they represent. Being in the presence of a geisha is a remarkable experience – as if royalty had suddenly walked into the room, one feels thrown against the wall with a sense of awe. A man simply seeking a beautiful courtesan or a mere hostess could find one at a fraction of the price.

    Memoirs of a Geisha is a tantalising taste of something it's not. It neither informs nor satisfies, but entertains sumptuously if simplistically. It will please many less discerning audiences as well as critics or award voters who review a movie by means of DVD – it has a lush play of colour that will transfer to the small screen together with a low attention-span requirement that allows you to make the coffee. But it is about as far from the memoirs of any geisha as the instant coffee will be from the beautiful ritual of the Japanese tea ceremony. The film, like a Japanese haiku, doesn't seem to have much to it: unlike a Japanese haiku though, it really doesn't.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The trouble with the book, "Memoirs of a Geisha" is that it had Japanese surfaces but underneath the surfaces it was all an American man's way of thinking. Reading the book is like watching a magnificent ballet with great music, sets, and costumes yet performed by barnyard animals dressed in those costumes—so far from Japanese ways of thinking were the characters.

    The movie isn't about Japan or real geisha. It is a story about a few American men's mistaken ideas about Japan and geisha filtered through their own ignorance and misconceptions. So what is this movie if it isn't about Japan or geisha? Is it pure fantasy as so many people have said? Yes, but then why make it into an American fantasy?

    There were so many missed opportunities. Imagine a culture where there are no puritanical hang-ups, no connotations of sin about sex. Sex is natural and normal. How is sex handled in this movie? Right. Like it was dirty. The closest thing to a sex scene in the movie has Sayuri wrinkling up her nose and grimacing with distaste for five seconds as if the man trying to mount her had dropped a handful of cockroaches on her crotch.

    Does anyone actually enjoy sex in this movie? Nope. One character is said to be promiscuous but all we see is her pushing away her lover because it looks like she doesn't want to get caught doing something dirty. Such typical American puritanism has no place in a movie about Japanese geisha.

    Did Sayuri enjoy her first ravishing by some old codger after her cherry was auctioned off? Nope. She lies there like a cold slab of meat on a chopping block. Of course she isn't supposed to enjoy it. And that is what I mean about this movie. Why couldn't they have given her something to enjoy? Why does all the sex have to be sinful and wrong?

    Behind Mameha the Chairman was Sayuri's secret patron, and as such he was behind the auction of her virginity. He could have rigged the auction and won her himself. Nobu didn't even bid. So why did the Chairman let that old codger win her and, reeking of old-man stink, get his fingers all over her naked body? Would any woman ever really forgive a man for that?

    Let's try to make sense of this. By being behind Mameha the Chairman incurred debts for Sayuri's geisha training. In order to recoup his debts the Chairman had Sayuri sold to Dr. Crab. Through Mameha the Chairman sold Sayuri's sexual favors to that old geezer so that the Chairman could make some money out of her. The Chairman wasn't her patron. He was her pimp! Some romantic love story.

    Yes, the film is gorgeous but it is like the beauty of a very attractive, alluring transvestite whose voice, appearance and every touch are thrilling. But under that very feminine surface lies an ominous secret. Under the incorrectly appearing Japanese surface of the film lurks the ominous secret that the heart, soul, spirit and core of this film is entirely American and male. Not the best thing to be if it is trying to be other than a lie, distortion, and terribly wrong.

    Some contrasts between Japan and MOAG:

    Japanese style – Refined, elegant simplicity. MOAG style – Peking Opera.

    Japanese geisha – Hair swept up. MOAG geisha – Loose hair which surely must have gotten all gunked up in the thick paste of white makeup.

    Japanese shaved ice - Japanese are rather strict about seasonal observances. Shaved ice is strictly a summer treat. MOAG shaved ice - The Chairman buys Chiyo, the young Sayuri played by the marvelous Suzuka Ohgo, this treat during cherry-blossom-viewing season. The thought made my entire body shiver with cold.

    Japanese geisha – Trained and skilled entertainers. MOAG geisha - sluts.

    Japanese wind chime - Used in the summer because hearing the sound it makes, thanks to the breeze, Japanese people feel somehow cooler. MOAG wind chime - a door bell! If a person stood in front of another's house and made noises with a wind chime they would be considered a lunatic, not gain entrance.

    Japan – Emphasis on human relationships, group oriented. MOAG – "I want a life that's mine" American individualism.

    Japanese traditional dance – Refined elegance. An almost geometrical and mechanical precision. MOAG dance – Martha Graham freaking out on LSD while wearing a not-very-auspicious white Japanese funeral shroud. Performed by a geisha down a ramp in a place that looks like a strip club? Ha ha ha! Is a strip club where they did most of their research on geisha?

    Japan house fire – Setting or even letting a fire break out is worse than murder because it poses such a dire threat to the community. Fires can rip through those wooden villages, towns, and cities destroying hundreds or thousands of homes and killing as many people. MOAG house fire - Great adjunct to a fight scene but there are zero ramifications and because it is no longer needed the out-of-control fire miraculously puts itself out. Technically the movie ended here because at the very least Sayuri would have been ostracized and joined her sister among those never heard from again. Which is where both Arthur Golden and Rob Marshall should be exiled.

    Enough. The movie stinks.
  • fais8423 December 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    Rather then long dance sequences and close ups of the characters which made the film drag on - the movie would have been better served explaining the story and motivations of the characters.

    The marginalisation of Nubo, the minister, auntie, mother - and the dumbing down of the dynamic and IMPORTANT rivalry between hatsumo and mameha and hatsumo and sayuri made the movie lack any real depth. If you hadn't read the book you would not really understand why Sayuri loved the Chairman and why Mameha became her mentor at all.

    Visually the film was stunning - and the actors all did the best with the C rate script they were given, but that was all that was good about this movie.
  • jotix10010 December 2005
    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.
  • In Japan of the 20's, the nine years old Chyio (Suzuka Ohgo) and her sister Satsu (Samantha Futerman) are sold by her fisherman father to a Geisha house in Miyako. Satsu is not accepted in the house and is sent to a brothel, and along the years, Satsu escapes from he brothel where she lived and the rebel Chyio is left alone, becoming a slave of a geisha. However, six years later, she learns how to become the geisha Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) with the support of the successful Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), while fighting against the evil and jealousy of the wicked Hatsumomo (Gong Li). While still a child, Chyio falls in love with The Chairman (Ken Watanabe), and in the post-WWII, they meet each other, in a period o changes in Japan with the occupying American forces and the country completely destroyed.

    The first half of "Memoirs of a Geisha" is a beautiful drama, telling the story of the country girl Chyio alone and adapting to a new life style in a house of geisha. Then, in the end of World War II, the screenplay becomes a soap-opera and the story becomes lesser and lesser attractive. However, the cinematography, the art direction and the costume design are amazing along the whole movie. But the cast speaking in English and keeping some Japanese words seems quite ridiculous for me. For such a careful production, this seems to be an unforgivable mistake. My vote is eight.

    Title (Brazil): "Memórias de uma Gueixa" ("Memoirs of a Geisha")
  • My main criticism is choice of actors. I won't go into small details of the film that I found inaccurate (and there are several). But the issue I have is with the language of the film. If you're doing an English film, choose actors who can perform with solid, fluent, un-coached English; the dialogue of the film often sounded forced and melodramatic. The obvious solution would have been to do the film in Japanese; I know the argument that the book was in English, but the story is in Japan, and if you're going to hire foreign actors you might as well do it in a foreign language. The production would have cost less and would have been more profitable in the long run, possibly even an academy award contender. The dialogue and direction otherwise was good; it was just the choice of language that was central to the movie's failure.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I read the novel a few years ago, and when I heard they were making a movie out of it I was filled with both trepidation (The one of my favorite books might be destroyed on screen) and excitement. I'm glad to say all my doubts have been cast away. Rob Marshall has created a wonderful film.

    They created a beautiful 1930's Japan. The sets and costumes were stunning. Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, and Ziyi Zhang all gave startling performances (Especially Ziyi Zhang and Gong Li. They were wonderful) It was amazing.

    One of the most powerful scenes, I thought, was when Sayuri and Hatsumomo start the fire in the Okiya. At first we see Hatsumomo's reaction - fear. But then she starts throwing the oil lanterns to the floor to feed the flames, and we see her face - you can feel that her world is ending. Pumpkin is no longer the heir to the Okiya, Mother has given her room to Sayuri. She is a destroyed women. Gong Li gives a phenomenal performance.

    What I especially liked was how they showed the part after World War II - how the Geisha became more and more like the women they despised, the common prostitute. I think Pumpkin best showed this. She was once a quiet, timid girl, but after the Americans came she became a rowdy, sake-drinking, soldier-pleasing "geisha". How the American soldiers polluted this important part of Japanese Culture.

    When Pumpkin finally betrayed Sayuri, and the man she had brought was revealed, the audience actually *gasped*. An audible gasp! Powerful.

    My only qualms about the movie were, as many have said, the English. It actually turned out better than I expected, but there were still some lines, especially by Ziyi Zhang, that I couldn't understand.

    I don't think you should go into the movie expecting to be completely accurate. From the production notes (I think they're available on the Official Website), we know that wasn't even their major goal. They wanted it to be a fable, growing larger than life in Sayuri's mind as an old women. I think it worked, and the result was beautiful.
  • Having lived in Japan for several years this movie does not reflect the Japanese culture and does not even come close to explain what being a Geisha is all about. Unfortunately, a great opportunity has been missed to bring the Japanese culture a bit closer to the broad Western audience and help demystify the country where Zen, Samurai, the Geisha world of Kyoto originate from. Some of the most poignant moments of the movie are when the Americans are shown in Japanese surroundings.The Geisha dances were not authentic. There was far too much use of Chinese music. A minor but essential detail: proper use of the incense sticks was nowhere to be seen. The Sakura scenes were almost obscenely kitschy ! Interestingly, some of the Chinese actors were quite convincing as Japanese persons.
  • marklwatts16 December 2005
    Even though the book wasn't strictly accurate to the real situation it described it still carried a sense of Japan. I find it hard to believe that anyone who was involved in making this film had ever been to japan as it didn't feel Japanese in the slightest. Almost everything about it was terrible. I will admit the actors were generally quite good but couldn't stand a chance of saving it. Before the film started I was surprised that there were only ten people in the cinema on a Friday night shortly after the movie had opened in Japan. 30 minutes in I was amazed they stayed. I stayed so I would have the right to criticize it. The whole movie was punctuated my groans and suppressed laughs of disbelief from my Japanese girlfriend. Everyone I saw walking out of that cinema had looks of confusion and disappointment on their faces.

    To the makers of this movie, you owe me two hours.
  • I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha when I read the book. This movie brought many of the scenes to life, adding in one new one that contributed to the drama. The movie did a decent amount of justice to the characters in the book by Arthur Golden.

    Although many things were left out of this movie, which happens with every movie that you turn into a book, it was very well done. John Williams did a beautiful job with the score, and the sets were elaborate and beautiful. There were a few technical aspects of the costuming and makeup that were wrong, but one would only notice if they were well versed in the culture of the geisha. If all you know about Geisha is that they wear white make-up and kimono, then you shouldn't have a problem with the minor details of the costuming and make up. They are both delightful, even if they are wrong in some circumstances.

    As being one who does not know the difference between the Asian actors (meaning if they are Chinese, Japanese...etc), I thought they all did a wonderful job of portraying the characters. The actors and actresses bring the characters from Golden's book to life.

    It was a delightful movie. I highly suggest it to everyone to see. There is romance, drama, a touch of comedy, and a look into the world of the Geisha. Although, it is only a tiny glance, as the world of the Geisha is much more complex than anyone could ever imagine, it brings this secret world of Kyoto to life.
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