Friday, December 30, 2005

Memoirs of a Geisha

There was a remarkable and interesting film that could have been crafted from the often interesting book of the same name…something that could have embraced the undeniable grace, the quiet majesty, the bittersweet humanity, and the tantalizing, sensual mystery of the geisha culture…but, unfortunately, director Rob Marshall didn’t make that movie.

Memoirs of a Geisha is, at times, a quite lovely film to look at…filled with lush colors, lovely scenery, sumptuous locations and costumes, and seductive shadings and tones…but it never really truly engages your complete attention. Part of the problem seems to be that Marshall doesn’t trust his audience’s attention span so he edits what should be a more meditative story of a young girl’s journey from being sold into the geisha house by her destitute parents to being the most acclaimed geisha of her time and place into a maddeningly frenetic hodgepodge of quick impatient cuts, unnecessarily cloying shadows, and haphazard pacing (things that worked to pretty fair effect in Marshall’s entertaining last movie, Chicago, but which were a disservice to the telling of this very different story.)

The performances are fine enough (special kudos to Michelle Yeoh, as the mentor of the title character, who had a fine, world-wary resonance) but the actors seem lost in the process of trying breathe life into their characters, lurching from scene to scene without much real connection to the plot or to each other.

Perhaps the geisha life before and during World War II was like this…filled with casual brutality, almost constant bitchy cat fighting and backstabbing, overwrought duplicity, and, at the end, the plague of loutish, leering, occupying American soldiers…but the movie never made any of it ring true.

A pity…the material was ripe for a thoughtful, sensual exploration but all Memoirs could muster was a tepid, simplistic soap opera that too often looked like it had been edited to be an MTV video.

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