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Memoirs of a Geisha

USA 2005
produced by
Larry Fisher, Steven Spielberg, Douglas Wick, Gary Barber (executive), Roger Birnbaum (executive), Bobby Cohen (executive), Patricia Whitcher (executive) for Amblin Entertainment, Red Wagon Productions/Columbia, DreamWorks, Spyglass
directed by Rob Marshall
starring Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Youki Kudoh, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Koji Yakushi, Suzuka Ohgo, Kaori Momoi, Tsai Chin, Zoe Weizenbaum, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Kenneth Tsang, Randall Duk Kim, Ted Levine, Paul Adelstein, Samantha Futerman, Thomas Ikeda, Eugenia Yuan, Yoko Narahashi, Karl Yune, Kotoko Kawamura, Natsuo Tomita, Shizuko Hoshi, Togo Igawa, Mako, Elizabeth Sung, Navia Nguyen, Rick Mali, Faith Shin, David Okihiro, Miyako Tachibana, Steve Terada, Koji Toyoda, Fumi Akutagawa, Daisuke Dewaarashi, Laura Miro, Diane Mizota, Takayo Fischer, Asako Takasue, Yasusuke Uike, Shuhei Nagao, Ren Urano, Ace Yonamine, Anthony Begonia, Albert 'Sumo' Lee, Nobu Matsuhisa, Dino Rivera, Shuuhei Mainoumi, Clarissa Park, Jim Leung, Joseph Steven Yang
screenplay by Robert Swicord, based on the book by Arthur Golden, music by John Williams, visual effects by Digital Backlot, CafeFX

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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At age 9, Chiyo (Sazuka Ohgo) is sold by her parents into mother's (Kaori Momoi) geisha house, but almost immediately she wants to make an escape with her sister, who has been sold to a nearby brothel - but the escape goes wrong when Chiyo falls down a wall and is brought back to mother with injuries - and as a punishment, she has to from now on slave for mother.

Heartbroken, Chiyo sits on a bridge contemplating suicide when she meets the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), who invites her to an icecream and gives her some money ... immediately, Chiyo falls in love with the much older man, and when she sees the glamourous geishas accompanying him, she decides it's worth her while to become a geisha after all. A short time later, famed geisha Mamahe (Michelle Yeoh) is taking Chiyo under her wing ...

Years later, Mamahe takes Chiyo to a Sumo wrestling match to accompany two man, Nobu (Koji Yakusho) and ... the Chairman of course. Thing is, due to her profession, Chiyo has to put up with Nobu, who has almost immediately fallen in love with her ...

Soon enough, Chiyo is to lose her virginity, and a bidding war starts over who has the honours - but neither the Chairman nor Nobu are bidding but the sleazy General (Kenneth Tsang) who almost raped her once before and a certain Doctor Crab (Randall Duk Kim), who is of no importance to the story but who ultimately gets to deflower Chiyo, off-screen.

The price paid for Chiyo was the highest ever for the defloration of a geisha, so mother decides to make her heiress of her geishahouse - much to the dismay of Hatsumomo (Gong Li), a scheming geisha who thinks her protegée Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh) deserves to inherit the house ... and thus Hatsumomo burns down the house ...

Then the Second World War breaks out, and the Chairman sees to it that Chiyo gets a decent job at a kimono factory (hey, this is Japan, what else but kimonos do they produce ?).

War is over as quickly as it begun, and now the Chairman and Nobu want to entertain some American investors and need geishas again - and who better to ask than Chiyo, who brings along Mameha and Pumpkin. Chiyo quickly enough catches the eye of American Colonel Derricks (Ted Levine), but she refuses to have sex with him - after all that's not a geisha's job. Then though, Nobu confesses his undieing love for her, and all of a sudden Chiyo realizes that should she give in to Nobu she will have lost the Chairman, her one true love, forever - so she has sex with the Colonel after all, but tells Pumpkin to bring by Nobu so his heart can conveniently be broken ... but Pumpkin brings by the Chairman, and the whole thing backfires ...

And why did Pumpkin do it ?

Because she's still angry at Chiyo because she became mother's successor and not Pumpkin ...

Years later: The Chairman stops by Chiyo's place, tells her it was him who told Mameha to take Chiyo under his wing in the first place because he fell in love with her (hey, she was 9 back then !!!), and the two of them have a happy ending after all.

 

Oh boy, what a pretentious piece of kitsch: An extremely cheesy, utterly silly and unrealistic love story packed into well over two hours of Oriental clichés with the word kimono mentioned so annoyingly often that after a time you are not sure if this isn't supposed to be a parody anymore - after all, there's quite a bit more to Japanese culture than kimonos, geishas and of course Sumo wrestling. But of course, director Rob Marshall doesn't seem to be the least bit interested into Japanese culture as long as he has some colourful sets to play with - which he uses in an overly glossy, uninventive way. And don't even get me started on the incredible number of one-dimensional and clichéd characters populating the film, from lead character Chiyo downwards ...

Interestingly, the film was mostly criticized for using Chinese actresses (Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li) in key roles as Japanese geishas, which is really the least of the film's problems as these three actresses are all rather fine - even if only Gong Li really shines in the only colourful role in the whole film -, it's anything else that doesn't work out.

Don't watch it !

 

By the way, this film was supposed to conquer the Chinese market - hence the three Chinese leads -, but obviously the producers were completely unaware of certain problems in the Chinese-Japanese relationship and ultimately the film was banned by the Chinese censors ...

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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