Sneak Preview of "Memoirs of a Geisha"
July 29, 2005
by agoodfella

i'll try to answer the questions that have been asked as best as i can

(*** small warning alert for some people that don't want to know the answers to previously asked questions, though i will do my best to try and stay away from any surprises ***):

Q: How was the acting besides the accent issue?

In sum:

Ziyi Zhang (Sayuri Nitta)

I thought her performance was very credible. Not Academy level or awe-inspiring, but a decent job. Most annoying for me was her Chinese accented voice-overs, i had to keep reminding myself that i wasn't watching a grand tale from the Middle Kingdom and that she was supposed to be a Japanese Geisha during the important voice overs. More character development would have been nice, her motivations vis a vis the Chairman in particular, but that's hardly her fault. She played the ups and downs of her tumultuous ride as a Geisha with a solid performance. As a side note, the "younger" Sayuri was incredibly engaging and charismatic and her performance was brilliant.

Ken Watanabe (The Chairman)

What can you say? The guy is a bonafide rock star IMO. To begin with, we must remember that The Chairman's role in the book, as pivotal as it is, actually has very little dialogue and actions - his presence throughout the book is largely played out behind the scenes in addition to being played out within Sayuri's own mind. Given the rather large task to create a powerful screen presence conveying a person of great mystery and aura with little comparative screen time, Ken does a great job as usual. His first appearance when he initially meets the young Sayuri was one of my favorite scenes of the film. Again, the interaction between his relationship with Sayuri could have been better executed, though the script and direction was probably more at fault.

Koji Yakusho (Nobu)

He did a decent job. But I felt his performance was one of the weaker ones relative to the others. His interaction with Sayuri was particularly weak. What were his motivations? What were his conflicts? Why does the Chairman always have to explain his thoughts and feelings? Why isn't his performance strong enough to convey those things on his own? Further, his "made up" disfigurement wasn't very convincing, i felt they should have gone for another actor who is just not physically appealing - beneath the make-up you could tell "herein lies the guy could be an engaging lead actor for any given Japanese film".

Michelle Yeoh (Mameha)

Wow. THE performance of the film (perhaps her career?). Incredible and Oscar worthy IMO. She fits the perfect mentor role to Sayuri, displaying wisdom, guile, inner strength and dignity despite her own circumstances. She hits all the right amount of emotion, grace and compassion that this role required. She allowed and indeed played an important part in supporting Sayuri's role to shine as the films "star". Yeoh has a unique quality to shine, she transcends her own beauty, and yet at the same time you are, in the back of your mind, also constantly aware of it as well - powerful stuff. (Note: NO discernable trace of accents in her performance, which was another added plus).

Kaori Momoi (O-kami (landlady))

Playing the "Cruella de Vil" that exists in many films (a la Cinderalla), she does a decent job. It's not a terribly challenging or demanding role, but that said, she does a good enough of a job that the viewer doesn't completely "hate" her - she is a no nonsense businesswoman, she is a survivor (in the words of Michael Corleone, it's business not personal). Her "survivor" mentality provides for some measure of comic relief in a number of parts of the film.

Youki Kudoh (O-Kabo (Pumpkin))

One of the weaker performances, in fact, in hindsight THE weakest. She wasn't that engaging or charasmatic, her performance fell flat with me. Even though her role isn't meant to be the "star", her role is particularly important in shaping Sayuri's character via her presence as a friend, foe, mentor, pupil - all roles she necessarily assumes throughout the film. Nothing compelling here. Disappointing... almost to the point of sticking out like a sore thumb.

Gong Li (Hatsumomo)

I was disappointed to be quite frank. I went into this film as a huge fan of her earlier work, and she was one of the reasons that drew me to this film in the first place (aside from the fact that I loved the book of course). From her heavily accented performance (perhaps not as bad as Zhang) it seemed that all she did was perform tantrum after continuing tantrum: it all became very tiresome very quickly (*yawns*). Also, it would have been nice to understand her initial animosity to Sayuri. I feel the direction and writing also played a detrimental role in not giving her enough to "work with" and leveraging her own unique charisma and screen presence. Not enough character development or depth. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, no compelling vulnerability which one should be exposed to or feel for in every major "villian". The fact is, perhaps her best acting days may very well be in her rear view which contrast sharply vs. Michelle Yeoh.

Kenneth Tsang (General)

He has an unassuming presence, yet provides almost instant screen gravitas and credibility. Not a major role in this film, but he does a decent job nonetheless.

Q: What about humor in the film?
Could have been more, could have been used more effectively.

Q: Did Hatsumomo and Pumpkin provided comedic relief?
Not really (read my reviews of those two to see why).

Q: And what were some of the things you heard people say as they left the theater?
Generally very positive.

Q: How did Nobu's relationship with Sayuri (So important in the book) come across?
Flat. (see review above).

Q: Were there a lot of dance scenes?
Yes there were a number of dance scenes from practice at the Geisha school, to the teahouses to a formal performance. They were well choreographed.

Q: How did they look (Japanese style?)?
The look of the film was very convincing from sets, stage and costumes. Kudos in this department.

Q: Did Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li have any dance?
Michelle does with Zhang. If Gong Li did, I don't really remember it, though nothing is particularly memorable about Li's perfomance IMO.

Q: How much screen times did they have?
Michelle quite a bit. Li, the right amount, though she didn't hit the right notes for me.

More Q & A:

Was there any singing?
Not any significant singing that I can recall. Dancing, yes. Instrument playing, yes.

Any main actresses played any instruments (heard they had been practicing)?
Yes Michelle was playing instruments, I cannot recall whether Zhang was... possibly.

How much screen time Suzuka Ohgo (who plays Chiyo) had?
She plays a fairly significant role in setting up the film and plays key events, her transition into the world of the Geisha, meeting the Chairman, antagonism with Li's character (Hatsumomo). I'd say that a good 30-40 minutes of the initial film.

Did you feel that the interaction between the geisha and white men from abroad was compelling?
No. This was one of the rather weakest parts of the film. Very abrupt transition. Not very compelling.

Were there any sex scenes in the film?
Yes and no. There was "implied" sex on at least a few occasions. As for nudity? No frontal. Only from the back. Everything from this perspective was done very tastefully.

Finally, did you feel that World War II was given adequate attention in the film?
Again, with the interaction of "white men" in the film, it was a very abrupt transition and the entire WWII section (the last segment of the film) seemed very rushed and was "off pace" from the rest of the film. It was one of the weaker parts of the film. They really ran out of time IMO, and those scenes weren't very well thought through.


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