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Memoirs of a Geisha
DVD disk
03.31.2006 By: Quigles
Memoirs of a Geisha order
Rob Marshall

Suzuka Ohgo
Ziyi Zhang
Togo Igawa


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A nine-year-old girl is sold to a geisha house where she dreams of one day becoming a classy prostitute, err, I mean geisha. Same difference.
There's something pretty strange about watching a movie like this with English as the spoken language. Considering the movie focuses on a culture entirely different from our own, I sort of expected the film to be "real". MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is not real. It features Chinese actors instead of Japanese, the geisha's appearances aren't altogether accurate, and the big dance sequence plays out like Marshall was going back to his CHICAGO days. Basically, the movie doesn't feature Japan. It features an Americanized, hand-made, fake Japan. I'm sure most people won't notice the difference, but it sure bugged me enough to pull me out of the film.

The reason I'm saying all of this is because everyone seems to be going gaga over this movie's costumes, set designs, and the like (it even won the Oscars for Art Direction and Costume Design). Sure, the movie looks beautiful, but it also feels unreal; like almost too perfect. From what I can tell, nearly everything was filmed on sets. It was like they ordered the Japan culture out of an Ikea magazine. Fine, whatever. This is a Hollywood movie after all. I'll deal. But then comes the issue about the cinematography, for which the movie also won an Oscar. Yes, it once again looks beautiful, but ultimately just added to this frustrated feeling. It was like the movie spent so much time trying to look good that it never devoted much time to absorbing you into the story.

As for the story itself, well, it's not exactly spectacular. When you get straight down to it, it's an overly long movie about a girl who becomes a famous prostitute. They call the profession being a "geisha", but really, they're similar in a big way. In one particular segment of the film, the main character sells her virginity to the highest bidder. Sounds like a prostitute to me. But that's not even what got to me; it's how the filmmakers were trying to glorify it. I got this feeling that I was being force-fed this "amazing" culture, when really it's just an imitation lacking that great foreign feeling. Sorry, but I didn't buy it.

The movie's other segments are also somewhat frustrating. Lets take the love interest, for example, which is dumb beyond belief. The only time the two characters share any sort of strong intimate moment is when the girl's nine. Lame... and weird. I can't think of any part of the movie that was much better. The film just seemed to keep chugging away and telling it's beautiful, but altogether bland tale. Sure, it's outstanding from a technical standpoint, but it isn't from a storytelling one. Not my cup of sake.
This movie is chock-full of extras, although the majority of them are featurettes. If you're interested in seeing the making of the film, then you should be pleased to see what this DVD has to offer.


Commentary (with Rob Marshall and John Deluca): The duo discuss how the project started, the actual production, how great everybody was, and everything they did to make the movie look oh-so-beautiful. Not a poor commentary, but not a great one either.

Commentary (with costume designer Colleen Atwood, production designer John Myhre, and editor Pietro Scalia): The trio talk about the obvious stuff you'd expect them to, and it actually makes for a more enjoyable track than the previous one. I also liked this track because it explained a good amount concerning issues with the film I was questioning.

There are also 8 Previews.


Sayuri's Journey: From the Novel to the Screen (14:25): Discusses how Arthur Golden went about writing his book, how it made the top selling list, and was quickly opted for a movie. Solid featurette.

The Road to Japan (5:32): Reveals how the filmmakers went about studying Japan in order to make the movie. I would've enjoyed this more had the movie actually felt like a non-American film.

Geisha Bootcamp (12:02): Explains what the actresses went through to train to become a geisha. Pretty interesting.

Building the Hanamachi (12:20): Shows how most of the world in MEMOIRS was created from the ground up as a giant set. It's cool to see, but ultimately proves just how artificial the film is.

The Look of a Geisha (16:17): Goes over the costumes and designs needed to turn actresses into geishas. This featurette bugged because it shows that these people did so much work, just to create a look for the geisha that isn't even fully accurate.

The Music of "Memoirs" (9:53): This featurette explains how John Williams became involved in the production, and how specific musicians were used for specific characters. Pretty cool.

A Geisha's Dance (8:10): Discusses and praises the big dance number during the film. Blah.

The World of the Geisha (8:29): Explains why geishas aren't prostitutes, and how they are so much more than that. Just to clarify, here's the definition for "prostitute" - One who solicits and accepts payment for sex acts. Yes, geishas are prostitutes all right.

The Way of the Sumo (5:58): Gives a nice little introduction to the world of sumo wrestling.

Director Rob Marshall's Story (10:03): This featurette spends its time praising a director whom I think was the main reason MEMOIRS failed. (He made the movie feel too much like a Broadway play... hmmm, how odd... especially since he just made CHICAGO.)

A Day With Chef Nobu Matsuhisa (9:43): This featurette feels a little random, but it's fun to watch. The famous chef (who made a small cameo in the film) talks about his work in movies, and then instructs you on how the prepare three different meals.

Chef Nobu's Recipes: Lists the three meals' recipes that were shown in the above featurette.

There are also 2 Photo Galleries, one titled "Behind-the-Scenes" and the other "Costume Illustrations".
If you're looking for an American interpretation of the late Japanese culture, then look no further than MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. It focuses more on being beautiful than having any sort of substantial material. In terms of the DVD itself, Sony has been kind enough to give the movie a strong 2-disc set, which should certainly please fans. Personally, I don't recommend checking this flick out, but I have a mom and a sister who would say otherwise.
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