Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Genre: Drama / Historical
Release Date: Theatrical release 12/23/2005, available on DVD 3/28/2006
Stars: Ken Watanabee, Ziyi Zhang
Director: Rob Marshall
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Reason for Rating: Mature subject matter and some sexual content
Runtime: 2 hours 25 minutes
An adaptation of Arthur Golden’s best-seller of the same title. This is the story of an unfortunate girl (Ziyi Zhang) with an unfortunate life, told in retrospect. This is the story of hundreds of thousands of girls born abroad, living a life we here in America can only understand through the majesty of film. Sold by her parents as a slave, she grows up with the only goal left to her; to become a geisha. While a small child and in training, she meets the Chairman (Ken Watanabee) and falls in love with him. This love lasts into her adolescence, even though she does not see him again until adulthood. Learning the wily ways of the geisha, she achieves her goal just as World War II arrives in her back yard and changes everything.
Memoirs of a Geisha is a solid romance, guised as an epic. The adaptation is done well, telling the story and allowing it to unfold without being forced. The romance and tragedy is as solid as they come, making you hope and wait for the moment where this couple will find one another. The guild like infighting and inter dynamics of the characters are reminiscent of everyone you know. No matter what country or culture, people are people.
The costumes, locations, director of photography and Mr. Marshall did their part rather well and more I might add. Ken Watanabee is an excellent example of a gentleman and puts on a stellar performance. The images were riveting, shots well schooled. And I assure you faithful readers, it will look great on your wide screen plasma. The attention to historical detail is flawless and elevated this movie beyond mediocre period pieces.
I was sold on this film entirely, until WWII. Something happens in the editing room around 1942. All of a sudden this very patient well developed film began to fast forward ignoring the characters it so carefully had molded. Bitter rivalries came from nowhere, the change in the sub-plots were abrupt. I can hear the producer’s now “We’re at 3 and a half hours. We’ve got to cut man. Cut, cut, CUT!” And left on the cutting room floor was enough ruined celluloid for two more films. Graded on a bell curve this does well as a romance in my book. I rather enjoyed Ziyi as a non-combatant and relished in her femininity. However, if this is graded as an Epic, I’m afraid it falls quite short. Too much story it did not tell. Brevity, at least in this case, is not an ally.
Hit or No Hit: Coach Mikes gives this film a double. Unfortunately, it was swinging for the fences rather than trying to get on base. But, perseverance paid off and it roped one into the outfield, allowing it to leg out an extra base hit.