Fast-Paised review: ‘Memoirs of a Geisha'

EntertainmentMoviesCookingJohn F. WilliamsAcademy AwardsGong LiMichelle Yeoh

Big question: Arthur Golden's novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" stroked audience curiosity with the whole submissive/pretty maid thing. Can glammy "Chicago" director Rob Marshall's screen adaptation explore this Japanese subculture provocatively enough to win over folks who don't know the difference between "geisha" and "wasabi"?

Skip it: Presented in English and cast with many non-Japanese actors, "Memoirs of a Geisha" is as authentic as cheeseburger teriyaki. But even more problematic is that, in 144 minutes, Marshall hardly makes an effort to contextualize or investigate a phenomenon in which women insist they are not prostitutes yet auction off their virginity to the highest bidder.

Catch it if: Costume design is your favorite category at the Oscars, and you're undisturbed by the idea of a prepubescent girl falling for a man a few decades her senior. The film's romantic arc is whether these two will end up together later in life. Ick.

Bottom line: "Memoirs of a Geisha" takes a fascinating Far Eastern subject and turns it into an American tale of female subordination, senseless competition and sake-swilling divas. It tries to assert that women have no choice but to submit to servitude and objectification--yet never analyzes why they are so thrilled to be selected as geishas-in-training. (They receive little in return and beauty appears to be the only prerequisite.) Revealing nothing about the skill, precision and discipline required of a geisha, these can only be considered "memoirs" for those who would be interested in a chapter in a girl's diary called "My 5-second tutorial on the proper bow."

Bonus: A brief glimpse at geisha trash-talking: "Stay out of my room. Your fingers smell!" Snap!

mpais@tribune.com

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'Memoirs of a Geisha'

Directed by Rob Marshall; screenplay by Robin Swicord, based on the book by Arthur Golden; cinematography by Dion Beebe; production design by John Myhre; music by John Williams; edited by Pietro Scalia; produced by Lucy Fisher, Steven Spielberg and Douglas Wick. A Dreamworks and Columbia Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 2:25. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for mature subject matter and some sexual content).

Sayuri - Ziyi Zhang

The Chairman - Ken Watanabe

Mameha - Michelle Yeoh

Hatsumomo - Gong Li

Nobu - Koji Yakusho

Pumpkin - Youki Kudoh

Mother - Kaori Momoi

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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