If it isn’t ninja, it’s geisha. Yes, the weekend following the 64th anniversary of Pearl Harbor is the perfect time for “spectacularly unfortunate metaphors about male eels and female caves and one regrettably brief catfight in a kimono.”
I admit, I didn’t read Memoirs of a Geisha when it came out, hit the bestseller lists, etc. I haven’t read it yet, but I know I should. Not just to nitpick at the book and movie (which I won’t see this weekend, though I might over break if opportunity presents), though that might indeed be fun, but because its popularity is something which we will have to take into account when we teach for the foreseeable future.
Anyway, the New York Times review from which the above quote is taken has a pretty good synopsis of the film and background, and pretty much comes to the conclusion that it’s a film that works visually much more than narratively. The job of a movie reviewer is twofold: explain what does and doesn’t work about the movie so you know if you want to see it; be entertaining. For both, it’s hard to beat Dargis’ concluding paragraphs:
Mr. Marshall can’t rescue the film from its embarrassing screenplay or its awkward Chinese-Japanese-Hollywood culture klatch, but “Memoirs of a Geisha” is 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. Although it’s always a pleasure to see these three in action, and there’s something undeniably exciting about the prospect of them storming the big studio gate, the casting of Ms. Gong and Ms. Zhang ends up more bittersweet than triumphant. Ms. Zhang, for one, shows none of the heartache and steel of her astonishing performance in Wong Kar-wai’s “2046.” …
Ms. Gong’s hauteur and soaring cheekbones work better for her character, a woman of acid resolve. Although there are moments when Hatsumomo comes perilously close to Dragon Lady caricature (“I will destroy you!”), the actress’s talent and dignity keep the performance from sliding into full-blown camp. But even the formidable Ms. Gong cannot surmount the ruinous decision to have her and Ms. Zhang, along with the poorly used Mr. Yakusho, deliver their lines in vaguely British-sounding English that imparts an unnatural halting quality to much of their dialogue. The. Result. Is. That. Each. Word. Of. Dialogue. Sounds. As. If. It. Were. Punctuated. By. A. Full. Stop. Which. Robs. The. Language. Of. Its. Watery. Flow. And. Breath. Of. Real. Life. Even. As. It. Also. Gives. New. Meaning. To. The. Definition. Of. The. Period. Movie.