Directed by Rob Marshall, starring Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li and Suzuka Ohgo.
When Arthur Golden's novel 'Memoirs of a Geisha' was released in 1997 it divided critics and readers alike. Set in a mysterious and exotic world, the book told the story of a Japanese child torn from her family and brought to work as a servant in a Geisha house. Critics questioned its authenticity but audiences took it to their hearts and the book went on to sell over 4m copies worldwide. The transformation of such a unique and vivid story to the big screen was always a mouth-watering prospect. Several top directors were linked with the project and when Steven Spielberg dropped it in favour of 'War of the Worlds', Rob Marshall, fresh off the success of 'Chicago', jumped in as director.
The story begins in the mid-1920s when a young child, Chiyo (Ohgo), is sold into slavery by her penniless parents to a Kyoto Geisha house. Here Chiyo encounters the hardened women of the house, who use her frail body for hard work and chip away at her soul. Her main rival, Hatsumomo (Li), sets out to destroy the last droplets of Chiyo's spirit. A chance encounter with a city businessman called the Chairman (Watanabe) changes Chiyo's life and makes her believe that human kindness and love are still abundant.
Chiyo's Cinderella story is changed when a rival geisha house takes an interest in the young beauty. Under the wing of the ice cool Mameha (Yeoh), a new swan emerges in the form of Sayuri (Ziyi). Trained in the artistry of dance and music, Sayuri soon becomes Kyoto's most desired geisha. But the little girl who was once shown a random act of kindness still aches for love - the one thing that she lost.
'Memoirs...', is a sumptuous feast of a movie, every frame lit and directed with beauty. Sayuri's first dance sequence could have been taken from Marshall's previous movie 'Chicago', but all this beauty, style and colour hide what the book displayed on each page: a heart. Here the characters' emotions are buried under the beautiful kimonos and painted faces of the geisha girls. When they are required to display any feeling, it seems forced and awkward.
The film also suffers through its structure - a large portion of time is devoted to the growth of young Sayuri but major events like World War Two are rushed, leaving the film unbalanced. Accents change as Chinese actors struggle with Japanese accents and come across with an American-English dialect. Had the film been shot in Japanese and subtitled it would have allowed a more natural feel to the emotional scenes. Instead, by the film's climax the audience will be left feeling cold and unsympathetic towards the characters.
A real missed opportunity for audiences to experience a glimpse of the world of the geisha.