Thursday, December 22, 2005

Memoirs of a Geisha: Snore (Rob Marshall, Director)
What can I say? Unlike what Hollywood pundits think the public wants, I personally love long movies. I don't want to go to the expense and hassle of driving to a movie, possibly paying for parking, and then have the whole thing over in 86 minutes. I've said "No" to movies on principle, just because the running time was too short. That being said, MofaG is at least a half hour too long. A young girl is sold into slavery at a geisha house, makes friends and enemies, meets her mentor/future love (yuck!) when he buys her a snow cone on a bridge...becomes geisha..there's a war...but...too late, I'm asleep. For a story about such an interesting subject, not much goes on in this film. The scenery is beautiful, the Japanese architecture is amazing, kimonos are elaborate, geishas are beautiful...but...snore. For such a long movie, not much seems to be communicated.

Part of the problem is the film's star, Ziyi Zhang, who's demure screen presence has worked so well in other films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and last year's amazing Hero (yes, the one with Jet Li; it's still beautiful beyond belief). Here she needs more expression: we never really know what the character is feeling. Michelle Yoeh does a better job as her geisha mentor, and Gong Li eats up the scenery with gusto as the star geisha who feels her beauty and influence fading. The movie does a reasonable job of suggesting the endless struggle for dominance in this secret world of women, but I wanted to leave the theater with more of an understanding of geisha culture than I got. Apparently geishas are not supposed to love or feel joy or have lives of their own, but somehow this is still better than being a farm girl or wife. Or something. They don't have sex either, unless they are bad girls. They exist as "moving works of art", serving client men for the good of their geisha mothers and to pay off their purchase price. Really, that's it?

World War II comes off as an afterthought, more of an inconvenience in this geisha's path to fulfillment with her man. And, I guess it was in the book, but how is falling for a 10 year old girl and then sponsoring her geisha training and debut not kind of totally creepy?

It's already been mentioned that Japan is unhappy that all three female stars of the movie are Chinese. Director Rob Marshall has said that he needed "name stars" to carry the movie—way to go Rob! That's really adding insult to injury! The movie is also in english, and listening to Ziyi, Michelle and Gong Li struggle with the language is distracting. I would have much preferred subtitles...but then, do these actresses even speak Japanese?

The whole set was built on a Hollywood sound stage, but looks nicely authentic. The costumes, makeup and sets really are beautiful, and worth part of the price of admission on their own. But, at the end of the two and a half hours, my butt was cement and I was cranky and unsatisfied. Bad geisha.

Also: going downtown in the week before Christmas is a bad idea. Humanity sucks. Ho ho, sock in the jaw, if you ask me.

My recommendation? Wait for the director's cut on DVD. Maybe a new edit or additional material will leave a better impression. Plus, you can pause and go pee or whatever, and avoid Mister Lead Butt and The Bladder of Doom. Or better yet, go rent Hero, which is an even more beautiful film that won't bore you.

Snack foods? Sushi, 'natch.


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