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Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

  Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: Arthur Golden, Robin Swicord
Starring: Li Gong, Youki Kudoh, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang
Links: Memoirs of a Geisha on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on DVD, Buy the Book
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 6.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Bothersome" - a review by pearly

Please allow me to get the initial controversial nature of this review outta the way early. Re. the whole Chinese actors playing Japanese characters thing. For authenticity's sake, this kind of thing always bothers me. I mean, it's one thing to have Australian Nicole Kidman playing Samantha in Bewitched (2005), but to me, there are a couple of differences here which make this a little more irritating. Firstly, whilst the character of Samantha is American, she's pretty interchangeable. It's not like geishas, who are a cultural and historical part of Japan. You could fairly happily drop a bumbling witch into Australia and she'd do just fine, but it's not the same with a geisha.

But the other thing, which to me is the more important of the two, is the fact that Memoirs of a Geisha is almost entirely English language. Sure, the novel was written by Arthur Golden, an American guy, in English. But at least if you're reading a novel, and you're an English speaker yourself, you can just imagine that the novel is a translation from the original Japanese, and you can, in your mind's eye, make the characters as authentic as you wish. With the film, it's right there in your face - Chinese actors in fake Japanese sets, speaking English. I'm sorry, people, but it's just wrong!

Let's put all that aside though, because everyone knew all that going in, and they either cared, or didn't, and if they went and saw it anyway, there's not really much use whinging about it after the fact. Let's get onto the film itself, and whether it's any good.

I read the novel only very recently; years after almost everyone else in the entire world had already placed their tattered copy back into the bookshelf with a satisfied sigh. But even though I was late to jump on the bandwagon, I really enjoyed the novel. The film: less so. I'm afraid it lacked a little something in almost every aspect. Some of the actors, speaking not in their native tongues, lost a little of their emotion in the translation, as they were possibly too busy trying to remember how to correctly pronounce things. In an overall view of the film, there was a lack of emotional connection with the lead character of Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), due to strange pacing - there wasn't enough of an introduction to the characters or the various motivations behind their interactions, and I can't see how people who didn't have the benefit of having read the novel behind them would have enough of an appreciation for each of the characters based purely on what was on screen. Even the cinematography, which won Dion Beebe an Oscar, was unimpressive to me. Films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) did a much better job, and this isn't even in the same league.

Seeing this realisation of the novel on screen still gave me little butterflies in my stomach at the start, but on reflection, I've gotta say that I was a bit disappointed by it. Ahh well.

pearly gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 30 Mar 2006

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