Monday, January 09, 2006

Super-Fun Hello Whore!

Memoirs of a Geisha
2005, USA
Rob Marshall
35mm

I’ve always wanted to travel to Japan, if only to have someone explain the ending to Neon Genesis Evangelion to me. However, thanks to the immersive world created by Rob Marshall in Memoirs of a Geisha, I no longer have to, because I’ve experienced all the wonder, exoticism, and abject boredom I need for one lifetime. Leave it to Hollywood to reduce thousands of years of culture to an exercise in fey Broadway production design.

They're like Transformers, only they speak in gibberish.

Rob Marshall’s epic tale of the life of a geisha looks pretty, but feels empty. Plus, it sounds awful, a side effect of the cruel decision to cast people who can’t speak English. Everyone in the film talks like an electronic voice synthesizer, resulting in a viewing experience that is somewhat less than absorbing, unless you’re Stephen Hawking, in which case it would be a cruel reminder of your impending death. Zhang Ziyi plays Sayuri, a young girl raised to be a geisha, which is a Japanese prostitute painted like a clown. Though it may seem somewhat strange to Western audience that a culture would venerate and identify its working women in such a rigidly formalized manner, keep in mind that this is the only way they can tell the girls from the boys over there. I’d apologize for the racism of the above statement, but that’s the only kind of reaction to be expected from a film like this. Memoirs of a Geisha is an Orientalist film, simultaneously patronizing Japanese culture and relegating it to the function of “Other”, a strange and exotic curio to be marveled at and studied, like a three-toed sloth or a black Republican.

Don't touch it. It bites without provocation or evidence

About the only thing the film does well is the elaborate art direction, which is always interesting. Of particular interest is the way the film sets itself up in the first half as a timeless fable, so much so that the viewer becomes surprised by the gradual introduction of recognizable modern conveniences, like telephones and radios. The film could almost be set in any time period, from feudal Japan to the present; only when we’re introduced to the war do we realize we’re in the 1940s. And once we do, the film makes an abrupt shift, mirroring the destruction of ancient traditions by completely shifting the look of the film, making the geishas seem as out of place as the telephones and transistors were in the first half. But then, we get right back to the stilted dialogue and fo-ne-tik line readings, and I go right back to not caring.

12 Comments:

Blogger Gaijin Girl said...

This film has been released simply as 'Sayuri' here in Japan. Not sure why. There has been a lot of backlash due to the fact that the leading roles are played by Chinese actresses. I don't think I'm gonna see this one. And hard to find a film here that hasn't been dubbed into Japanese.
What the hell is wrong with subtitles?

2:22 AM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Reading.

8:46 AM  
Blogger gretchkal said...

my cousin was reading this book all through dinner at christmas. it was very annoying. it was bugging me so much that i don't think i want to see the movie because my cousin was reading it ...

6:26 PM  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

I also disliked this movie. Rob Marshall really dropped the ball. Pretty, but vacuous and superficial.

1:22 AM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

And you know what? It wasn't even all that pretty. I mean, there was a neat dance sequence, but the rest of the film didn't impress nearly enough to make up for being soulless.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Fatman said...

a) Who cares if they cast a Chinese chick as a Japanese person? If they can sell the idea of casting Charlton F-cking Heston as a Mexican (Touch of Evil,1958) to the studios then that's pretty much set the benchmark from now till whatever mutant virus wipes out the human race.

b) Was there any Karate battles?

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

Funny that you found the dance sequence the most alluring, considering that the dancing done was not Geisha dancing at all! Japan should make its own period pics unless it really wants to be subjected to Last Samurai after Last Samurai.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Yeah, but I wouldn't really know what really Geisha dancing is, considering my only really experience of the culture is Bukkake videos. And I had forgotten how awful Last Samurai was.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I walked out of this movie. It sucks...the book is much, much, much better.

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Stefan said...

Beside the dance there actually was a second scene I liked. That was when the two elder women beat up Gong Li. On the other hand the only thing that really bothered me was that they did not dare to paint the Chinese actresses teeth black, as should have been done of course.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Also, they got Chinese actresses to play Japanese characters, when they should have gotten white people, because they can speak English.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Steph said...

The Koreans I went with to see this movie loved it. I guess that means it really did bastardize Japanese culture.

2:53 PM  

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