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Memoirs Of A Geisha

  • Film

Time Out says

‘Fasten your obi, it’s going to be a bumpy night...’ The line is never actually spoken, but the acidic tang of ‘All About Eve’, with its cat-calls and bitch-fights, hangs over this adaptation of Arthur Golden’s all-conquering novel like a cynical spirit observer. Spanning the ’30s and ’40s, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ traces the fortunes of Chiyo, bundled off as a child to endure life on the bottom rung of an okiya (geisha household), triumphantly reinvented as ultra-glam Sayuri but thrown another curveball when war breaks out.

Rob Marshall’s first film was ‘Chicago’ and ‘Memoirs…’ ain’t short on razzle-dazzle. Colours, costumes and design are relentlessly luminous, sumptuous and exquisite, even at the plot’s lowest points: when Sayuri is cruelly ravished, it’s in front of a collection of antique kimonos; when she’s evacuated to rural poverty yards of glorious silk still billow in the wind. Could these be intended as intimations of the dark side of glamour? If so, they ring hollow in a film rendered kitsch by its own conspicuous artifice: the liberties with Japanese period detail, the use of Chinese actors, the English dialogue.

Yet ‘Memoirs…’ does engage as a tale of ‘this tiny world of women’, with its venomous rivalry and unexpected kindness. Gong Li steals the show as bitchy top dog Hatsumomo while Michelle Yeoh is all class as Sayuri’s mentor. Zhang Ziyi is sympathetic in the lead but Sayuri is ultimately dispiritingly passive: while all around her sisters are doing it for themselves, she is moulded by others and longs only for a big, strong man. This fairy-tale sentimentality pales besides such bracingly nasty moments as when the okiya mother, suspecting Hatsumomo of illicit sex, jams her fingers into her crotch and sneeringly sniffs.
Written by BW

Release Details

  • Rated:12A
  • Release date:Friday 13 January 2006
  • Duration:145 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Rob Marshall
  • Screenwriter:Robin Swicord
  • Cast:
    • Zhang Ziyi
    • Ken Watanabe
    • Michelle Yeoh
    • Gong Li
    • Koji Yakusho
    • Youki Kudoh
    • Kaori Momoi
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