"Memoirs of a Geisha" Set Report
by Bluenose Kitty
A massive set of the Gion district of 1920s Kyoto was constructed an hour outside of Los Angeles on a private farm in the Thousand Oaks area. The set includes a running river, two brides, authentic period buildings, and real cobblestone streets. A great deal of smoke and dry ice is used to give the set a foggy, hazy look. The production designer, John Myhre, has invested an astounding level of detail into the sets and props from the period-specific furniture to the old adverts on the buildings to the old-fashioned light bulbs inside the buildings to the moss on the river. Apparently many of the film's exteriors will be shot here and in Japan and the interiors will be shot at Sony Studios in Culver City.
About eighty extras were assembled on the Gion district set on the main plaza; each extra was specifically costumed in period Japanese kimonos or western-style 1920s suits by costume designer Colleen Atwood. The cobblestone streets were sprayed with water and ice was added to the trees so that the set shimmered for the 'wintry' look that Rob Marshall and cinematographer Dion Beebe wanted for the scene. Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh appeared on set late-morning for the market place scene.
Yeoh was costumed in a grey-blue kimono and Zhang was in a powder-pink and sky-blue kimono with an extravagant green obi. Zhang's hair was in the 'split-peach' style appropriate to apprentice geisha and Yeoh's hair was in a more relaxed simple knot to indicate that she is the higher-status geisha. Marshall meticulously directed the actresses' actions as their characters purchased a bottle of sake as a gift to a potential male benefactor to Zhang's character as rickshaws, vintage autos, bicyclists and many Kyoto residents milled around in the background.
Later that night a very complex shot was set up in which a Steadicam was mounted behind a rickshaw and traveled the length of the Gion district set, snaking around old cars, past other rickshaws, and pedestrians enjoying a night on the town. Apparently this was the p.o.v. of the central character and her sister as they are brought into Kyoto for the first time and Chiyo is sold to the geisha house where she will grow up into one of Japan's most renowned geisha.