'Memoirs of a Geisha'

Rob Marshall's "Memoirs of a Geisha" has been attacked from so many different quarters, for so many different reasons, that it's hard to sort through the noise and focus on the movie's real problem -- which is that it's a film by Rob Marshall, and Rob Marshall doesn't know how to make movies.

Not that anyone cares. Marshall's previous film, "Chicago," was a decent box-office hit and even won the Oscar for Best Picture, which meant that the director got carte blanche on his next production, an adaptation of Arthur Golden's popular novel about a young woman's rise through the ranks of an elite geisha house in WWII-era Japan. And Marshall did exactly what "Chicago" suggested he'd do: He spent millions of dollars ensuring the film had the right surfaces and textures, and spent not a moment worrying about the actors or the story.

"Memoirs of a Geisha" is thus an utterly hollow one -- the kind of sumptuously empty production that Hollywood cranked out regularly in the 1950s and 1960s. It does its best to re-create the shadowy geisha culture of Japan for a Western audience ... but it does so by turning Golden's book into a clunky reworking of All About Eve, with Ziyi Zhang's ethereal young heroine drawn into a rivalry between two highly regarded geisha (Gong Li, who knows what kind of movie she's making, and Michelle Yeoh, who evidently doesn't), and forced to choose sides even as she becomes a beauty in her own right.

It's all very gorgeous-- costume designer Colleen Atwood, cinematographer Dion Beebe and composer John Williams all won Oscars for their efforts, which are considerable -- but it's also amazingly dull and one-dimensional, thanks to Marshall's lack of interest in getting real performances out of his actors, who keep getting in the way of his pretty pictures. On the other hand, the stills would make a great coffee-table book.

Sony's enhanced-widescreen DVD is a full-on special edition, with two audio commentaries (one from Marshall and co-producer/choreographer John DeLuca, the other with editor Pietro Scalia and Oscar-winners Atwood and Myhre) and no less than 11 production featurettes -- amounting to roughly two hours of documentary material -- that highlight the expense and obsession with accuracy that drove the production, even as they overlook such little annoyances as story and character and all that jazz.

Bottom line: When the DVD includes a ten-minute featurette on the renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa, a longtime acquaintance of producer Douglas Wick who has a walk-on as a kimono maker, it sort of points to larger problems with your movie.

STUDIO: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: March 28, 2006
RATING: PG-13
PRICE: $28.96
TIME: 145 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: French audio dub; English and French subtitles; audio commentaries; production featurettes.
INTERNET SITE: www.sonypictures.com/movies.memoirsofageisha

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