Memoirs of a Geisha
3/4
poster

Details & Information from IMDB

Genre Drama
Year 2005
Duration 145 min
Rating 7.0 out of 10
Description: 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.
Comments: Can a group of American men and Chinese actresses render the remote and mysterious world of a 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 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 kabuki theater dance scene...

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, excessive felicity, and delicately mechanical gesture, posture, and movements of traditional Japanese ladies you can 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 vague standard for 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.