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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Film Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

It goes on general release in New Zealand tomorrow (Thursday 19th). Here's my review:

"Memoirs of a Geisha
Director: Rob Marshall. Cast: Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Watanabe.

This English language film based on the popular novel by American Arthur Golden in which a nine-year-old peasant girl and her sister are sold into a city Geisha house in the 1920s is an epic. She's good looking and works her way up through the catty office politics to become the most expensive Geisha and eventually runs a house of her own after the war. It feels like a mini-series; but what Shogun and Richard Chamberlain were to masculinity and the Japanese military order, so Geisha and Zhang Ziyi are to femininity and Japanese sexual perversions.

With Chicago director Rob Marshall at the helm we see an eye for sets, lighting and costume winning out over the sentimentalist and sloppy suspension of Mr Spielberg at the producing end. For a male perhaps the plot is too narrow, even trite - the main characters all being female - there is no-one to really relate to and when the war finally comes we see precisely none of it. But this isn't for him. A him may have written it as a kinky bondage male fantasy but the struggle for power is totally on her terms in this soft-core version.

The exalted quasi-prostitute/mistresses possess an air of the tortuously sublime. The aesthetic proclivities of the Japanese are taken to their depraved ends by the bestial traditionalist arch-chauvinists. The girls must tread a fine line in the courtship/negotiation ritual of the virgin-fixated noblemen. Thank heavens they weren't fixated on the music aspect of the art of the geisha - it was not something you could exactly whistle.

Ritual upon ritual, costume upon costume - this is either going to be enthralling or insurmountably boring. But this is a sumptuous saga. The colour is dark, but rich and the twilight world of a sub-cultural élite is captured in that context. It is a fairly lengthy undertaking that will probably not disappoint those who have read the book. The defloweration dance is a highlight."

I'm a stingy prick, I know, and so I only gave it 3 & 1/2 stars.

I've already had various hits looking for "defloweration" via my last post about this movie where I mentioned the term (including my only visitor from the Islamic Republic of Iran). I'm sure they were all just horticultural students doing research.

Oh, and I saw in Granny Herald that some wankmeister gave the truly awful Broken Flowers five fucking stars. Out of a hunderd maybe, mate! Wanker, wanker, wanker. I'm sorry, but honestly, you are. Did you have your beret over your eyes and ears during it and fell asleep because it was so tediously boring and then had to make it all up based on what other wankers had to say? Is that what really happened? Is that how you got 5 out of 5? If it was in French would it be 6 out of 5? Wanker.


At 19/1/06 9:42 pm, Blogger Craig Ranapia said...

Well, it seems to back up the judgement of a Japanese friend of mine who saw this in the States: More Americans treating the rest of the world as little more than exotic set-dressing. He also asked a rather interesting question - did I think Rob Marshall (who happens to be gay) & Stephen Spielberg would ever produce a script a Jewish gay man set in New York written by a Japanese man who didn't speak English and had never been to the United States. I suspect not.

The really depressing thing is that millions more people will see this film - or read the odd novel it's based on - than will every see a Japanese movie or read a Japanese novel. Sigh... The real history and lives of geisha are more interesting than any white man's fictional memoirs.


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