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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.
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.
Can a group of American men and Chinese actresses render the world of a
Japanese geisha? The answer is yes, with stunning beauty
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.
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.
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.
*** This review may contain 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
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.
*** This review may contain 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.
*** This review may contain 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.
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-.
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