Sakuran (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/08/2008

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 111 mins

Enjoyable geisha drama with a superb central performance from Anna Tsuchiya and stylish pop art direction by Mika Ninagawa.

What's it all about?
Adapted from a manga comic series by Moyoco Anno, Sakuran stars Anna Tsuchiya (Kamikaze Girls) as Kiyoha, a rebellious and feisty geisha in 18th century Japan. Sold to a brothel as a young girl (played by Ayame Koike), Kiyoha rises through the ranks, first as a House Girl and then to a much in-demand courtesan, which incurs the wrath and jealousy of the Head Geisha.

After a tragic accident, Kiyoha herself becomes Higurashi (the Head Geisha) but her foul mouth and rebellious ways remain. Will she find love with lowly tradesman Sojiro (Hiroki Narimiya)? Or will she choose the life of wealth and leisure offered to her by Lord Mitsunobu (Masatoshi Nagase)?

The Good
The press notes for Sakuran proudly proclaim it as "the film Memoirs of a Geisha should have been" and it's hard to disagree. There are catfights, affairs, wise-cracking geisha girls, moments of shocking violence and even shots of naked geishas bathing, if you like that sort of thing.

Anna Tscuchiya is superb as Kiyoha, brilliantly bitchy during her foul-mouthed moments (it's odd hearing geishas telling people to ‘Fuck off’) but also heartbreakingly tender in her emotional scenes. There's also strong support from Masatoshi Nagase as Mitsunobu (her first client) and Miho Kanno as Shohi, the Geisha she is first apprenticed to.

The Great
However, it's Mika Ninagawa's direction that really raises Sakuran above other geisha dramas – it's beautifully shot, courtesy of Takuro Ishizaka's eye-poppingly colourful cinematography and the film uses a J-pop soundtrack by Ringo Shena that initially sounds weird and incongruous but actually works really well. Ninagawa also has a good eye for striking imagery (goldfish flapping on the ground; an arterial spray of blood), even if she does seem a little obsessed with goldfish.

Worth seeing?
In short, Sakuran is an enjoyable, superbly directed and impressively acted drama that gives a delicious manga-slash-J-pop twist to the geisha story. Worth seeking out.

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Sakuran (15)
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Content updated: 20/08/2018 09:23

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