Staff film critic
Exotic allure, breathtaking beauty,
skillful artistry and a desire to delight are the
traditional gifts of the Japanese geisha. They're
also fitting descriptions of Memoirs of a Geisha,
Rob Marshall's enticing film, based on the
best-selling novel about a geisha's life.
Indeed, in terms of pure beauty, Memoirs of
a Geisha is among the most gorgeous films ever
created, a magnificent cherry blossom of a movie,
evoking the lovely mysteries of geisha life.
Although novelist Arthur Golden, director
Marshall and even composer John Williams are
Western men, the language on screen is English,
and the three leading Japanese characters are
played by Chinese actors, Memoirs generates the
ambiance of authenticity.
Ziyi Zhang stars as Sayuri, who, as the
daughter of a poor Japanese fisherman, has been
sold into geisha servitude. The film follows
Sayuri from childhood to early middle age, from
1929 to the early '50s, as she learns the
conversation skills, the precise movements, the
tea ceremony, the musicianship and the artistry of
a geisha. Unknowledgeable filmgoers learn quickly
that geishas make a science and an art form out of
companionship. They're not prostitutes.
As Sayuri serves her apprenticeship, she is
taken under the wing of a caring mentor (Michelle
Yeoh), while combating the snide remarks and
underhanded backstabbing of a defiant rival (Gong
Li). Sayuri also learns a hard lesson - that
although geishas live to serve the men who employ
them, they may never fall in love.
This becomes an impossible task, once
Sayuri meets the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), a
powerful but kind businessman.
Director Marshall comes to Memoirs fresh
from the Oscar-winning musical Chicago, and the
films have more in common than one might initially
Music and dance are key in both, and each
film purposely constructs a lovely artifice, an
iconic myth far removed from day-to-day reality.
Once again, Marshall succeeds, though Memoirs is
probably 20 minutes too long.
The Chinese casting has stirred
controversy, due to long-troubled Sino-Japanese
relationships. Yet, I can't imagine more skillful
and evocative performances than those given by
Zhang, Gong and Yeoh. (All three are among the
most famous and popular actors in Asia, and are
better known in the West, by far, than any
Zhang's portrait of Sayuri moves smoothly
from fear and insecurity to confidence and
comfort; Gong brings sharpened fangs to the role
of the spiteful competitor; and Yeoh suggests
experience and faith as the veteran mentor.
Each helps make Memoirs of a Geisha a
sumptuous, radiant pleasure.
Memoirs of a Geisha
Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li.
Director: Rob Marshall.
Length: 145 minutes.
Rated: PG-13, adult themes, implied sex.
Jack's rating: With 10 as a must-see, this
film rates 9
Topping it off
Dave Brown of Dave Brown the Hatter in Henrietta designed the men's
fedoras for Memoirs of a Geisha. His work has been
featured in other films, including Chicago, Road
to Perdition, Catch Me if You Can, Mulholland
Drive and O Brother, Where Art Thou?
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