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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Memories of a Geisha at Opium

Memoirs of a Geisha movie preview yeasterday. All drinks and no food at the pre-screen reception held in Opium - in the Queen St. Civic bloc. Great oriental design apart from the cheesy glamour photos of models on the wall. Waitress said it looked like someone had cut them straight out of magazines. Late 80s/early 90s ones at that. The tiered seating of the dining section at the end of a sweeping bar/concourse was reminiscent of a Singapore restaurant atrium in the upper levels of a high rise. The space is rather wasted as the views are of the very large earthquake-proof diagonal beams and then a panorama of:- the expanse of concrete that is the Aotea Centre and the square. The waitress also informed me that it does not even have live music - despite a large natural stage area created by the amphitheatre of tiered seating.

Well after chatting and drinking with this attentive hostess for far too long, for a second time, I found an opportunity to make a clumsy, perhaps even gouche remark in inviting a favourable comparison between the models in the pictures and the very good looking waiting staff... ... ... ... ... (realises the implication has sexual overtones, she freezes for what seemed like eight hours, her beautiful grey/blue eyes darted around the room and then mumbled that she better get back to serving) It wasn't an embarrassment/blush it was an embarrassment/horrified. Sadly, I think I know that look. It's the startled/sickened/natural repulsion look when someone old enogh to be Great Aunt Maude starts talking to you in a dodgy Ponsonby Rd bar and you have a coversation as if she is Great Aunt whoever and then it suddenly dawns on you why she is acting rather peculiar... and the thought of someone that age wanting to fuck you is naturally, instinctively repellant enough that the immediate reaction right after the initial amazement is over is: EXIT STRATEGY CONDITION RED. "Ahh, yeah... I have to do this.. ahh.. thing.. see ya..." Often this is accompanied by up to two steps taken backwards during the retreat mumbling recitation of miscellanous and vague excuses. Well anyway - I know it when I see it. More's the shame because as I left I realised she was being a perfect geisha: a cute, young, polite conversationalist, serving alcohol. Perhaps next time I will be the perfectly behaved Danna (patron).

So they served us intoxicants (with no food) so that our perceptions would be warped and the movie reviewers would compromise their professional standards. But this was a smaller crowd - and not at all the usual suspects. The well worn beret of the Herald's wankier reviewer wasn't present so I guess the movie wasn't going to have subtitles. Just thick Japanese accents. It was a bit like a female version of that classic book-cum-TV mini-series Shogun. I thought the whole plot was epic, but the telling may have been a little trite. I haven't read the book, I must say: it was written by a man and the movie was directed by a guy - but I sense that women will enjoy this one.

It played like a 2 part mini-series running back to back. But it was captured in - and I don't use this word often - sumptuous terms. The costumes, the lighting, the colour: it was a fetishistic saga. The concepts are Japanese aesthetics taken completely off the deep end (as they tend to do) in the context of the rituals and codes of order, rank and heirarchy of the pre-war Japanese Empire. There is a bondage element here that might appeal to women (?).

Plot: Poor cute child of peasants sold into a Geisha house with sister who is separated into distant Geisha house, girl becomes woman, journey into life and ways of Geisha, manipulates men, struggles to top of Geisha, war, struggles to top again.

But is it just a kinky, toned down sex novel for a female audience? Is it just an American male prnographic demure Asian fixation gone too far? An American salute to Japanese eroticism? The movie never becomes those things I think. The female characters were strong and the performance of the lead (both actresses as the child and adult of the same character) were convincing. The male characters were in the background the whole time and never came into focus until the home stretch. All the intrigue that we see is not between the men. If men had anything to do with this tale then the Geisha would learn the art of Ninja, the sex scenes would be a lot more than the sillohettes and fast cut-aways on offer here - and when the war comes we would see it.

I really don't know what to make of this film - perhaps because I may not be in the target audience. The craftsmanship of the visual aspects: cinematography, lighting, design etc. are worthy of study. As far as nailing the aesthetics of Geisha (the dance of pre-defloweration being the most stunning) it was superlative. But it was a long movie and that storyline just didn't really interest me apart from the connexion with the main character.

Maybe a 3 or 3.5/5 for men and a 4 or 4.5/5 for women. But how much does alcohol, let alone pondering the faux pas with the waitress, play in these things. And the thing that made it worse was the pathetic plot line that the businessman who was kind to the Geisha as a child was obsessed over by her despite her not seeing him again until she is almost a full Geisha and the most prized women of her time. And then I reflect on that waitress - if I had had the right words, the perfect conversation - perhaps in 10 years time when she is older and lowers her standards accordingly... (insert Tui punch line here).


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