Friday, January 20, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha - 72%

Even as a Chinese, I do find the thought of having 3 Chinese actresses playing Japanese in this film rather odd. Not that it has never been done before (Initial D and countless chinese films) , but the fact that this time, an American directed the film (though produced by a Japanese company), and it is shot in English. And I suppose American films are always more scrutinized because 1) they have a wider reach of the market worldwide 2) They have a bad record of trying to represent and interpret what they call asians or asian values (Mulan, Chinese Stereotypes in American Movies etc). So this time they want to shoot an Asian movie, with asian values, through the lenses of an American filmmaker. With the decision to use 3 major Chinese actresses to star as 3 Japanese characters - is a potential setup for trouble.

Well, now that it is out, how does it fair? I have to admit I am not too keen with the casting decisions made. There are tons of great Japanese actresses suitable for the roles I believe, but hey, we all know the motivation behind the casting decision - MONEY. So I have to be try to be as objective as possible, and gauge the film with no tainted prejudice - purely from a filmmaker's perspective.

Story is very simple - 2 young girls are sold by their poor fishmen parents - one (Satsu) to prostitution and another (Chiyo) to a become a geisha (eventually). The story mainly revolves around Chiyo (adult played by Zhang Ziyi), and her ascension to being the top Geisha in Japan. And the motivation of her every step, is somehow driven by a man that she met when she was in her teens. How her entire life, she's working to be (the image of) a woman next to the man that she loves.

So it is mainly a love story, and honestly, a rather thin one. And the story unfolds more like an adventure story tracking her life for the few decades that shaped her training and motivations. What really captivates me in this film are 2 things 1) The great acting from all the major actors (especially Ziyi, Gongli and Michelle) 2) The beautiful cinematography.

1) The 3 main characters Chiyo (played by Ziyi), Hastumomo (Gongli) and Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) were gorgeously played by the 3 actresses. Japanese or not, they played their characters very well. Granted from the way they pronounced some English words, you will know they are not Japanese, and for people who are familiar with such nuances, you can be rather put off. But nitpicking aside, these are some great acting skills at display here. Then there is Ken Watanabe who plays the "Chairman" and Koji Yakusho who plays "Nobu" - they are great actors too. I especially like the character played by Nobu and the scene when he confronts Chiyo about a possibility that she has sold her body to the American. Well .. the main characters performed admirably. So well done.

2) Beautifully shot. Every scene is like a painting, and I applaud the cinematographer for a job well done. This is one of the most beautifully shot film in a while.

So what's not to like. Like I said before, for people who are familar with the nuances of the Japanese language/culture, you might find some things to nitpick - and I am one of them. The pronounciation of certain words can damage the "realism" (or illusion?), of a film and reduce its ability to "make-believe" (remember Crouching Tiger? Why didn;t they just dub Chow's and Yeoh's lines?) Movie is all about make-believe, and since this film is shot like a serious fictional drama (and i mean not a comedy or scifi or something), the Chinese actresses do dampen the illusion a bit. But this could still be my nitpicking. American viewers, Indian viewers etc. are probably not gonna care. However, this film is really not too bad and it looks great - it just lacks a little "omph" ....

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