“Chicago” director Rob Marshall gives the traditional world of the Japanese Geisha a Hollywood tweak and comes up with a glamourously filmed and acted movie that is as camp as Christmas.
Little Sayuri (Suzuka Ohgo) is sold by her parents to an Okiya – a Geisha household – in pre-war Kyoto. After years of deprivation (cleaning, fetching tea, dancing and learning how to put on make-up), the adult Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi) hopes to become top Geisha and to land her Mr. Right (Ken Watanabe).
“One of those bad Hollywood films that by virtue of their production values nonetheless afford a few dividends, in this case, fabulous clothes and three eminently watchable female leads.” New York Times.
“Any doubts about three Chinese actresses speaking English with Japanese accents vanish in the face of their deeply felt performances.” Rolling Stone
Rob Marshall’s first movie was Chicago, so it comes as no surprise that this, his second, is glamourous, gorgeous and glossy.
Based on Arthur Golden’s best selling “holiday read”, this is very much a Broadway take on Japanese culture. Fluttering fans, silk kimonos and cherry blossom – it’s all there in a beautiful looking film which won this year’s three main “visuals” Oscars – costume, cinematography and art direction.
The controversial casting of three leading Chinese actresses in the main roles meant a lot of coaching in highly stylized Geisha movements not just the dancing, here Japanese with a touch of Chorus Line, but also walking which, to the uneducated eye, is like mincing in platform flip-flops.
Gong Li (Farewell My Concubine) all but steals the show as the evil, sexy, vengeful but vulnerable Hatsumomo. She is Bette Davis at her most acid. The Hollywood diva analogy holds for the other stars too. Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger,) is coolly sophisticated, an Oriental Lauren Bacall and Zhang Ziyi (House of Flying Daggers, Crouching Tiger) as Sayuri, the Geisha wannabe, is Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. All three give terrific performances, as does little Sujuka Ohgo as the child Sayuri. Her first smile, after a lot of sadness, is one of the film’s high points.
It all looks very Japanese but beneath the make-up it is as American as a July Fourth parade.