During China's Tang dynasty the emperor has taken the princess of a neighboring province as wife. She has borne him two sons and raised his eldest. Now his control over his dominion is complete, including the royal family itself.
In 1929 an impoverished nine-year-old named Chiyo from a fishing village is sold to a geisha house in Kyoto's Gion district and subjected to cruel treatment from the owners and the head geisha Hatsumomo. Her stunning beauty attracts the vindictive jealousy of Hatsumomo, until she is rescued by and taken under the wing of Hatsumomo's bitter rival, Mameha. Under Mameha's mentorship, Chiyo becomes the geisha named Sayuri, trained in all the artistic and social skills a geisha must master in order to survive in her society. As a renowned geisha she enters a society of wealth, privilege, and political intrigue. As World War II looms Japan and the geisha's world are forever changed by the onslaught of history. Written by
There was much discussion about the traditional Geisha hairstyles of the time period and the filmmakers decided to give each character a specific hairstyle that was slightly symbolic of her character. Pumpkin's hair was slightly over-exaggerated with many ornaments to indicate her character's desperation to succeed. Hatsumomo's hair when loose was wild, while her up-do was set with sections of hair dangling out to indicate her character's disregard for tradition, and her loose morals. Mameha's hair was side swept with simple buns or generally loose over one shoulder to give her a simple elegant appearance. Sayuri's hair was always a simple style either in a bun, a braid or a less exaggerated style to indicate her natural beauty and less need of elaborate styles. See more »
Spoiler: When Okaa-san says she wants to adopt Sayuri, which provokes Hatsumomo's anger, Okaa-san's cigarette keeps changing its own size, being at times totally consumed, and sometimes not. See more »
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.
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