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Memoirs of a Geisha
2005 - PG-13 - 145 Mins.
Director: Rob Marshall
Producer: Gary Barber, Steven Spielberg
Written By: Arthur Golden, Robin Swicord
Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Watanabe
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site: www.sonypictures.com/movies/memoirsofageisha/
   

Cat fight
It’s ‘Pretty Woman’ done up in a kimono! ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ is an entertaining Cinderella story about a poor peasant girl in pre-WWII Japan who is sold by her family to become a famous geisha. Starring Ziyi Zhang (“House of Flying Daggers,’ ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’) as Sayuri, and directed by Rob Marshall (‘Chicago’), the film is based on the best-selling book by Arthur Golden.

Though there has been much criticism about this film being based on a book written by a Western man, I haven’t heard any similar criticism about ‘Brokeback Mountain’ being written by a woman. Golden, who was sued by real life geisha, Mineko Iwasaki, for misrepresenting her life and geisha customs, has woven an interesting love story that is hampered by more than a few problematic contrivances on its way to the big screen.

First of all, though the casting is imaginative and inspired, superb actresses like Ziyi Zhang and China’s best-known actress, Gong Li, (and real-life rival to Zhang), struggle with English. The language barrier hinders the actresses from doing their best. And because the principal actresses are all Chinese or Chinese-speaking – including martial arts queen, Michelle Yeoh (‘Crouching Tiger’) – their accents are Chinese, not Japanese pidgin. There’s a certain irony that this film would have been more effective if it was shot in Japanese – especially as the source material was English, and the actresses are Chinese!

But watching ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ is like watching ‘Gladiator.’ We’re not enamored by historical inaccuracies, but by the spectacle of stunning cinematography, a predictably satisfying love story, and a couple of exotic dances or two. We’re given a glimpse into the life of a geisha and told that they, just like the Jedi, are not allowed to love. Of course when Sayuri falls in love with an older man (Ken Watanabe) because he gave her an ice cream, we know there’s heartbreak, trial and tribulation ahead.

The best scenes in ‘Memoirs’ come when Gong Li verbally spars with Zhang and Yeoh. There’s a delicious cattiness that only lacks full claws because of the language barrier. But this is classic Hollywood, as the older star (Gong Li) battles a younger rival with everything she’s got.

Perhaps due to time constraints, some plot lines are left loose to dangle. And all of World War II is swept away in a couple of transition shots.

Though as enjoyable as a trip to a Chinese buffet, you never lose the nagging feeling that you’re not really sampling anything authentic. ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ concentrates safely on the love story, but its single focus harms the film’s legitimacy because other aspects of Japanese and geisha culture are left aside. In the end, the characters are two-dimensional harpies, conniving people who could be set in any time, culture or era.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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