out of Five
Running time: 145 mins
Gorgeous to look at but curiously uninvolving and occasionally irritating, this is ultimately something of a disappointment despite strong performances.
What’s it all about?
Based on the bestselling novel by Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha stars Ziyi Zhang as Sayuri, an unusually blue-eyed Japanese girl who is sold into slavery by her penniless parents and taken under the wing of prominent geisha Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) in the 1930s.
Schooled in the mysterious geisha arts, Sayuri rises to the top of her profession and has to deal with the auctioning of her virginity and jealousy from spiteful rival Hatsumoto (Gong Li), while secretly pining for the love of The Chairman
(Ken Watanabe), a kindly businessman who once bought her a snow-cone.
Chicago director Rob Marshall injects enough razzle dazzle into the proceedings to ensure that there’s always something beautiful to look at, whether it’s the sumptuous set design, Colleen Atwood’s stunning dresses or its central trio of drop-dead gorgeous actresses.
The performances are excellent, with Gong Li stealing the show - no mean feat, given that she has clearly learned her lines phonetically. Also worthy of mention are Suzuka Ohgo (who plays Sayuri as a 9 year old and bears an uncanny resemblance to Zhang) and Youki Kudoh (actually Japanese) as Pumpkin, Sayuri’s fellow Geisha apprentice.
The film has already attracted a huge amount of criticism for casting Chinese and Korean actresses in Japanese roles and then forcing them to speak in broken English. However, the main problem is that the film fails to engage on an emotional level, particularly if you’ve seen the trailer, which foolishly gives away the climax.
The film does have its moments but it’s at least 30 minutes too long and its romance novel plot eventually becomes both predictable and tedious.
Geisha practically screams Oscar bait but there’s really little to recommend it beyond the sets and the performances. It’s gorgeous to look at but ultimately shallow and unengaging. A disappointment.
Memoirs of a Geisha (12A)