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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Watches: Memoirs of a Geisha

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The arrival of “Memoirs of a Geisha” this holiday season earned its spot, in LAist’s eyes, as a film worthy of your well earned dollars. The buzz has been building around town for weeks as screenings and sneak previews have been popping up, including this lovely tale of a celeb date night. Directed by Rob Marshall of Chicago fame and starring Ziyi Zhang (who just snagged a Golden Globe nomination), Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li and Ken Watanabe, the story winds through the young melodramatic life of a girl blossoming into a geisha. Those of you who have read the book will find the movie follows pretty true to the story, though Marshall does focus a lot of time on the cat fights and jealousy amongst rival geisha houses and less on what it takes to become a geisha.

Set in Japan during the 1930’s and 1940’s, this cinematic tale tells a certain Cinderella story, a poor young girl sold off to a geisha house and surviving incredible hardship only to rescued by an fairy-like godmother (Yeoh) who develops and molds her into the character that Zhang plays so well. The movie is two and a half hours long, and it definitely could have been told with the same passion and sweeping affects in two hours instead. But there is a thread woven into this story of true love and destiny, soft as the cherry blossoms that punctuate many parts of the film, that allow us to wind through this story without feeling like the movie was dragging on. It might not be the epic masterpiece that some had thought, but it is not telling the story of a nation, it is telling the story of how to balance the heart with basic survival. The WWII influence brings a certain real life consequence to the film, and the beautiful music (performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman) is amazing.

Yes the main actors are not Japanese and this has caused somewhat of a rise from critics and yes the tale has been altered somewhat to fit Westernized standards. But we’re told early on that the word “geisha” translates in “artist.” If that is the case, and you can accept a few sacrifices in the name of art, then you won’t be disappointed in seeing this film.