Director: Rob Marshall (Chicago)
Written by: Arthur Golden (Novel)
Plot: In 1929 an impoverished nine-year-old named Chiyo from a fishing village is sold to a geisha house in Kyoto's Gion district and subjected to cruel treatment from the owners and the head geisha Hatsumomo. Her stunning beauty attracts the vindictive jealousy of Hatsumomo, until she is rescued by and taken under the wing of Hatsumomo's bitter rival, Mameha. Under Mameha's mentorship, Chiyo becomes the geisha named Sayuri, trained in all the artistic and social skills a geisha must master in order to survive in her society. As a renowned geisha she enters a society of wealth, privilege, and political intrigue. As World War II looms Japan and the geisha's world are forever changed by the onslaught of history.
I had the honour to watch this film in exclusive preview two days ago. I got the invitation through a friend working in the marketing and publicity department of a very well known London publishing house. The viewing was hosted in a private club in the heart of Soho. We were offered drinks in the 20s style sumptuous bar and the opportunity to chat a bit before the immersion in an atmospheric old Japan.
What to say about it? It was another beautiful film, with stunning costumes, a moving biography and a great cast. A film which has been already acclaimed in Tokyo, and which I am sure will gain the approval of the occidental audience, who will be intrigued by the secrets of becoming the most popular geisha and its significance in the pre- and post-war Japan. A western viewer will be also captured by the ambience and vibes of the 30s and 40s Japan, here reproduced so perfectly to verge on complacency.
Having seen the House of Flying Daggers just the night before, it was inevitable for me to make a comparison between the two films starring, by the way, the same main actress (Ziyi Zhang). Okay, one is set in Japan and the other in China, which means I should avoid generalisations about the two (different) cultures. Furthermore, one is directed by an established Chinese director and the other by an American (Rob Marshall) and based on a novel by another American (Arthur Golden). Incidentally, this explains perhaps why a Chinese actress (Ziyi Zhang) could play the role of a Japanese woman!
Maybe I was influenced by this detail, constantly reminded by the language (the film is in English), and could not dissolve the impression that her memoirs from childhood to maturity were chronicled with a sequential, steady, and therefore rather *conventional*, rhythm, and embellished with a certain degree of occidental soppiness and drama which was not very involving, as opposed to the slower, more sophisticated and deeply gripping style of Asian directors, such as Yimou Zhang and Kar Wai Wong. Said that, the film remains a must-see, and the book, perhaps, an even more absorbing reading.