Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (Rob Marshall, 2005)

As a girl Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) and her sister are taken from their home in the country. They are brought to the city, with Sayuri landing in a geisha house. In MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA the feisty girl with stunning blue eyes attracts the jealousy of the geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li), who makes certain that Sayuri loses favor with Mother (Kaori Momoi).

The hot-tempered Hatsumomo is grooming the weak-willed Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh) to become Mother’s heir so that she can assume control of the house. Sayuri is a potential threat to that plan, especially when the popular geisha Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) takes an interest in her and teaches her the ways of the geisha.

The geisha world is cloaked in secrecy, but beyond taking the audience into the okiya, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA does little to illuminate these women described in the film as living works of art. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA insists that geishas are not prostitutes, something that becomes harder to understand when the defining attribute of Sayuri and Mameha are the prices they fetch for their virginity.

The life Sayuri leads is not truly her own, and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA plays out at an emotional distance even though the title suggests a personal tale. The love story between Sayuri and Chairman (Ken Watanabe), her desired patron and romantic interest, is undercooked to develop any emotional weight. Like the dolled-up women, the film is pleasing to the eyes and inscrutable. The mystery, though, is tedious rather than captivating.

Grade: C-

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