MOVIE REVIEW: Of orient opulence


Memoirs of a Geisha

Cast: Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, Kôji Yakusho, Kaori Momoi, Youki Kudoh, Gong Li, Kenneth Tsang, Suzuka Ohgo

Direction: Rob Marshall

Showing at Kumari

It’s difficult to draw that fine line between what we call pulchritude and popular pornography. Well, that is not our bone of contention, at least, for now. Geishas indeed must have been moving works of art, trained in the exquisite art of entertaining men (and strictly only entertaining!). Apparently though, the portrayal of pulchritude that epitomises art seems even more difficult to replicate than what it originally would have been. Of course, the celluloid version is ornate with all the technicolor techniques, the treatment of the pathos and the general predicament of geishas still remain shallow. Perhaps, it’s really easier said than done, to recreate the magnificence of the lost world through the eyes of a geisha who is neither an empress nor a queen or even a Geisha she claims to be.

Turning a bestseller into a blockbuster might not be all that difficult, but certainly, there’s no compensation for the nuances that get lost in the process. And director Rob Marshall desperately attempts to recreate the charm of the old orient with visual opulence and overly ornate and glorified kimonos. The pre-intermission part mostly flips through Sayuri’s (Suzuka Ohgo and later Zihi Zhang) Dickinsinian plight, to the brewing of arch rivalry with the grand geisha Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), who’s a fiendishly vindictive vamp always off the leash to inflict brutal torture on her hapless apprentice.

Nothing seems out of place in the life of a geisha that should have been, as the oft-reiterated rhetoric bangs over and over again — geishas are made to merchandise dreams and not entertain themselves with one of their own.

It’s the sedate and the panoramic view of the hills and the habitat of this small Japanese town, where many geishas-in-the-making begin their journey from misery to the make-believe magnanimity of the life of a geisha that indeed takes us away into a different world.

After being sold by her parents, and their subsequent death, Sayuri would know little about her own dreams, until a tryst with a gentleman inculcates in her a dream that graduates only after she grows up to be a gorgeous geisha. Indeed, Sayuri as a geisha appears surreal, who not only casts spells with her looks but also plays the unrehearsed part with a flourish without ever crossing the threshold of acceptable art. Forgiving her for not being able to infuse life into her character, Sayuri deserves all plaudits for her picturesque performance.

No wonder that the film bagged Oscars for art direction. Go watch it for the Oscar tag and a little bit of tai-cha that you could learn.