Memoirs Of A Geisha follows the life of a girl sold by her family from a poor fishing village into servitude in a geisha house.
Looking like a who’s who of all the usual Asian suspects – although a few more Japanese faces mightn’t have gone amiss – this film is one of those visually sumptuous period pieces that has “Oscar Nominated” written all over it. It plays out like a ritualisation of sexual politics in which the feisty young heroine wins out in the game of social one-upmanship with her sluttier, bitchier rival to become the most envied and admired woman in town, all the while holding a torch for her one true love, who just happens to be dashingly handsome, wealthy, influential and unattainable too. It’s easy to be cynical at these kinds of thing, but the cast are impeccable and the costume design, sets and cinematography all splendid, but I couldn’t help noting the irony of the post war section of the film in which Zhang is distraught at the sight of “her” culture becoming a homogenised post card to be sent back to the States. After all, isn’t this film just a pseudo high brow extension of that very same process? I must admit I did enjoy the peek behind the petticoats of homogenised Japanese culture, being as interested as the next western devil and the combination of period detail and intellectualised soap opera is quite entertaining.
I can’t really take it seriously as a piece of art however, because it’s really the visuals that make this film what it is; scrape away the elaborate make up and you have a generic female crowd pleaser – the learning-to-be-a-geisha montage in particular made “You’re The Best” from The Karate Kid pop into my head. In reality it’s just Pretty Woman for Guardian readers.