When I first read MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, I fell in love with the book. The details and challenges of the heroine’s life—a girl who is sold into servitude but who manages to get some control in the end—enchanted me. It was a page-turner. It was beautifully written (and, yes, a simile is used by the author every minute, but they’re great similes). It was wonderful reading. I loved the cat fights, especially, and I kept thinking that when it was turned into a movie, I’d be blown away.
But, oddly enough, after seeing the film, I don’t have much of an opinion.
I have no idea why this is. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous ,and I thought the acting was strong. (And, yes, they did cast Chinese actors in Japanese parts but, generally, that’s nothing new. How many times have we seen English thespians playing Romans, etc.? Too many to count. All I know is that Gong Li was an awesome Hatsumomo. ‘nuff said.) So why did I like the movie and not love it?
I guess maybe it felt as if this was more Geisha 101 than a real character study. There wasn’t a ton of depth, but the story itself is entertaining. Basically, we’ve got a rags-to-riches tale about a poor girl who turns into one form of “the perfect woman” (depending on your point of view of what a perfect woman is, of course. If you like ‘em oppressed, this lady is for you.). She’s pitted against an evil geisha, then taken under wing by a kind one who nevertheless has her own agenda, and then the fur flies. As I said, the cat fights are awesome, whether they’re staged at a tea house with barbed words as weapons or physical. Definitely, the best parts of the movie are when Hatsumomo (the evil one) is baiting Sayuri (the heroine).
The director, Rob Marshall, was at the helm of CHICAGO, and you can definitely draw many visual parallels between the two works. When Sayuri performs an emotion-ridden dance in the “snow,” it looks like a strobe-y version of Velma and Roxy on stage, or maybe as if Sayuri even wandered into FLASHDANCE. (OMG—now that would be the coolest movie—GEISHADANCE. I’m so on it. Dial up Jerry Bruckheimer for me, babe.)
I do recommend this movie to you, especially if you’ve read the book (which I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend.). The beauty and hints of the veiled world of a geisha, who is NOT a courtesan, mind you, are intriguing.