In the 1920s, 9-year-old Chiyo gets sold to a geisha house. There, she is forced into servitude, receiving nothing in return until the house's ruling hierarchy determines if she is of high enough quality to service the clientele -- men who visit and pay for conversation, dance and song. After rigorous years of training, Chiyo becomes Sayuri, a geisha of incredible beauty and influence. Life is good for Sayuri, but World War II is about to disrupt the peace. Written by
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.
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