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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
The three leading non-Japanese actresses, including Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, and Michelle Yeoh, were put through a six-week crash course on geisha culture through a "geisha boot camp" before production commenced, during which they were trained in traditional geisha practices of musicianship, dance, and tea ceremony. 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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