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Overall Rating
3.13

Awesome: 18.06%
Worth A Look: 18.06%
Just Average: 23.61%
Pretty Crappy38.89%
Sucks: 1.39%

7 reviews, 30 user ratings


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Memoirs of a Geisha
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by Elaine Perrone

"Lost in Translation."
3 stars

As enthralled as I was while reading Arthur Golden’s sublime Memoirs of a Geisha, I still found myself pausing often to sneak glances at the author’s photo, having to convince myself that it truly was a Caucasian male from the American South who had transformed himself so convincingly into the persona of a young Japanese woman, Sayuri, who herself had transcended poverty and oppression to become the most esteemed geisha in Kyoto. When I heard of the final casting of the book-to-movie adaptation, I was horrified to learn that the exquisitely drawn character of Sayuri, as well as those of other key female characters in the novel, would undergo a transformation of a different sort, with the three principal roles going to Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, and Michelle Yeoh – Chinese actresses, all!

The translation of Golden’s 1997 source novel from page to screen has been in the works for several years, during which time it has undergone a series of its own major changes. What started out as an on-and-off project for Steven Spielberg, and was shopped around in the interim, eventually landed in the hands of director Rob Marshall, with Spielberg staying on as one of the film’s producers.

Before even walking in to the screening, my biggest concern, aside from the issue of the non-Japanese casting, was Marshall’s decision to present “Memoirs” not with subtitles, but in English, further compromising the integrity of the material.

As usually happens, when one tries to project an outcome, I have good news and bad to report.

Settling in with “Memoirs,” I found myself increasingly less resistant to the multi-national casting, reasoning that it was far from the first time actors had been called upon to cross cultural or ethnic boundaries. After all, said I to me, I had no problem accepting Takeshi Kaneshiro as a Chinese soldier in Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers, and I recalled that Tamlyn Tomita – rumored to have been Spielberg’s casting choice to portray Sayuri in his original vision of “Memoirs” – magically “became” Chinese in Wayne Wang’s rendition of Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club. When Australian Naomi Watts morphed into the character of Canadian Betty Elms (and then some!) in Mulholland Dr., people took favorable notice, as they did with her fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman’s immersion into the character of Virginia Woolf in The Hours.

Conversely, while no one perished from Kevin Costner’s execrable portrayal of Robin Hood, that movie – and now Memoirs of a Geisha – stand as testaments to the absurdity of calling upon any actor to converse in a language or with an accent at which he or she is far from adept. I blame everything that’s wrong with “Memoirs” on Marshall’s decision to go with an English script – a criminal disservice to a cast of fine performers for the sake of attracting the dumbed-down audiences (1) whose lips get tired reading subtitles, and (2) who he hopes might escort him up the aisle to Oscar glory.

Gorgeous to the eye, thanks to the breathtaking cinematography of Dione Beebe, the transformation of a California ranch to pre- and post-WWII Japan via the incredible work of production designer John Myhre, and of course the beauteous trio of lead actresses, “Memoirs” is ultimately rendered cold, distant, and unmoving – all attributable, to my mind, on the unnatural inflection in which the actors are forced to articulate their lines. Having seen Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, and Koji Yakusho in other films in which they perform in their own languages, I know all of them to be consummate professionals and astute actors. It’s hard to put the fault on their work here, when it’s obvious that so much of their energy is being diverted by the effort of having to simply pronounce the words. (Michelle Yeoh is the one exception who seems comfortable speaking English. Not coincidentally, hers was the only character to whom I was able to warm.)

Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha is a tale of great subtlety and poignancy, written by a Japanese art historian who obviously absorbed the nuances of the culture while living and studying in Japan, and whose characters he brings gloriously to life on his pages. After years of anticipation, I had truly hoped to be equally thrilled by the screen adaptation, which, but for its visual brilliance, turned out to be sadly unstirring and remote. Tellingly, no secret is being made of the fact that co-writer (with Robin Swiford) Doug Wright, who was hired to polish the shooting script, was kept on during the production to rewrite lines that the actors found too difficult to pronounce. It seems rather obvious that it would be tough to concentrate on creating characters of depth and nuance when one has to invest one’s time in simply coming up with lines they can speak.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13653&reviewer=376
originally posted: 12/15/05 19:37:03
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User Comments

11/24/13 Vanessa C. Beautiful movie and the story was great. 5 stars
8/15/13 Anon It was a great and well-moving story. 4 stars
6/01/11 Bethany Pairitz Very beautifully shot movie. I was pretty moved! 4 stars
12/15/09 A Girl pretty to look at but not much else 3 stars
10/23/09 Kae I loved this movie. At the end it is a tear gerker. 5 stars
1/16/09 Shaun Wallner Fell asleep to this one. 2 stars
1/09/09 Anonymous. i wish the film was as great as its cinematography. 3 stars
4/11/08 EMILIA One of my most fave movies ever! Love! Movie critic is mean and bored with life. 5 stars
3/06/08 mb beautiful movie. loved it. 4 stars
6/13/07 Angelica I love this movie! 5 stars
12/25/06 johnnyfog Can't...look...away...movie...too...pretty!! Loved Gong Li as crazy evil psycho bitch 4 stars
10/05/06 Kara Not what I thought it was about 3 stars
6/17/06 Anastasia Jonson This movie showed me alot about Japan that I didn't know. Entertaining and educational. 5 stars
6/07/06 Lisa Extremely boring - didn't even bother to finish it. One out of five for the look of it. 1 stars
5/02/06 Ashley Hinz Who cares if most of the actors were Chinese? Flawed, but I loved it. 5 stars
4/06/06 Troy M. Grzych Best explanation about sex: Eel in the cave!! Excellent movie! 5 stars
3/23/06 jesika loved it loved it loved it- CAPTIVATING but u must read the book 1ST 5 stars
3/23/06 Meredith Harshaw Japan's so unlike Iran, where geishas were never out of the closet! 3 stars
3/07/06 Piz Chick flick where if you enjoyed the book, the movie does justice. 4 stars
2/02/06 Kankasaur 2010...6 Oscar nods to Rob Marshall's A Million Little Pieces, incl. James Frey's adaption. 5 stars
1/21/06 Musicianwriter Complaining about Chinese actors? Well, Broke Back used straight ones! Geisha is amazing! 5 stars
1/18/06 malcolm see it just for the talented and gorgeous Zhang Ziyi. very similar to "Kama Sutra: ..." 4 stars
1/10/06 Mansi Dido Zhang Ziyi excels (again) ! 4 stars
1/08/06 Sachiko The tradition of the Geisha IS still alive! The movie is extremely accurate. 5 stars
1/03/06 jcjs lovely, tender, colors, music, faces, water, ponds, story, romance, deception, love, life 5 stars
12/26/05 Chun Awkward orientalizing of a dead tradition 2 stars
12/26/05 bentable zZzZzZz 2 stars
12/25/05 Jonathon Holmes If I wanted to watch a soap opra, I would've stayed home and watched Laguna Beach on MTV! 3 stars
12/25/05 Agent DX Surprisingly good, despite bad reviews. 5 stars
12/09/05 Sergio Trite strory and painfully dull. Living death! 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  09-Dec-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Mar-2006

UK
  13-Jan-2006

Australia
  19-Jan-2006


Directed by
  Rob Marshall

Written by
  Robin Swicord
  Doug Wright

Cast
  Zhang Ziyi
  Ken Watanabe
  Michelle Yeoh
  Gong Li
  Kaori Momoi
  Tsai Chin



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