Friday, July 29, 2005


So last night I got to be in the first audience to view the film Memoirs of a Geisha. That was a cool experience. The film is pretty good, and I think anyone who's enjoyed the book will like seeing the characters and situations come to life. Poor J, who hadn't read the book, wasn't as happy. The trouble was with the first act (her childhood), which was much too long. But we understand we saw a work in progress, so maybe they'll tighten it up.

At one point Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh are sitting there having a conversation and I leaned over to J and suggested they start fighting a la Crouching Tiger. He said, "That's the only thing that can save this movie."

But once she becomes a Geisha things get interesting. They do that regular obnoxious movie thing of having everyone speak English with accents (if they're supposed to be speaking their own language, they wouldn't have accents!). Except the opening scene, which for some unexplainable reason is in Japanese without subtitles. Then they just switch to English once she arrives in the city, and suddenly this kid can speak perfect English! Wow!

Well, anyway, if you see the movie and they've changed that, you can give me credit. Wouldn't be hard to dub in English over the opening scene and keep everything consistent.

Apart from my little nit picks, it's a gorgeous movie, making Japan look positively other-worldly (although some of it was obviously shot in Hawaii - we recognized the Blue Hawaii beach). The colors, costumes, settings, and music are all superb, Oscar-worthy. The performances are quite good but I couldn't get past how Chinese all the actors look. I think the director thought Americans wouldn't be able to tell they weren't Japanese, but it was pretty obvious to me. Maybe just b/c I've seen the actors playing their own nationality in so many other films. But come on - Michelle Yeoh just does not look Japanese!

The best parts are those that evoke the rhythms/visuals of Chicago (Rob Marshall directed both). There's a great training sequence and an amazing dance sequence, both of which you can tell were fun for the director.

I'm just not sure he's got his pacing right. And he needed to reign in the actors - much of the drama is over-the-top, including some of the performances. And the blue contacts in Ziyi's eyes keep moving around when she cries which is really weird.

But anyway, I wrote all this in my comment card, so we'll see what they fix. I would highly recommend the film to fans of the book and of Japanese culture (although there's not nearly as much dwelling on the fascinating cultural elements as in the book - wish they'd spent more time on that than on some of the drama). People like J, who haven't read the book, are going to find parts boring. Heck, even I got bored a couple of times.

But then they'd hit you with something gorgeous so it was okay. Well it's worth seeing for free, anyway. Just kidding, I'm not saying don't see it. But it's probably not the best film of the year.

That honor still goes to Batman, IMHO.


MEP said...

Oh, I am SOOO jealous that you go to see the film already. I just saw recently that they were making it into one. I read the book years ago and LOVED it so I can't wait until it comes out. I might need to refresh myself by reading the book again.

Glad to hear that it was good in spite of the things you mentioned in your comments.

ms. tea said...

i really enjoyed the book until i heard an interview with the woman whose story the book was based upon. apparently the author went beyond what he communicated to her he would describe and also by identifying her in the thank you section, opened her up to ostracization by the geisha and former geisha communities.

apparently the whole lifestyle is supposed to very mysterious and secretive and his book basically destroyed that. plus she claims that he made several embellishments (such as the whole story of auctioning off her virginity, etc).

thats not to say that i didnt find the story fascinating, its just sad that the woman who he credits its success to isnt happy with what he did with her story.