Director Rob Marshall
Starring Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, Ken Watanabe
Film ** Extras ***
According to Rob Marshall, geishas were the supermodels of their day. Hmm, let's see: impressively well-read, trained for years in the arts of music and dance... Even if you add in 'coke hoover' it's still a galaxy away from Kate Moss.
And so, armed with that spurious assessment, the Chicago director launches into his film about Japanese geishas, glamming everything up - sexier kimonos, razzle-dazzle choreography - while never satisfactorily explaining what a geisha actually is to those of us who haven't read Arthur Golden's source novel. Are they elegant performance artists or male playthings, available for a price? Er, both. Sort of. Although, in his restrained commentary with choreographer/co-producer John DeLuca, Marshall insists that they're not prostitutes. Meanwhile, on screen, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) is flogging the virginity of Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi) to the highest bidder...
The muddle doesn't stop there. The actors, particularly Ziyi, are let down by some dreadful ham-fistedness in both script and direction, including the widely spoofed “You are ready!” sequence and Sayuri's big solo dance, a trumped-up number with eight-inch heels and nowhere to go. The exception is Gong Li, robbed of a Supporting Actress nomination this year, as the spiteful but fascinating Hatsumomo. A coiled firebrand of anti-Sayuri venom, Li burns up the screen. Sadly, in his anxiety to keep Geisha on the fast track, Marshall cuts in a catfight and then drops Li, leaving Ziyi to carry the load.
Tellingly, at one point in their chat-track, DeLuca claims that Li almost caught fire during the scrap... prompting Marshall to cut him off, clearly wanting to avoid anything controversial or, you know, interesting to interrupt his chat about all the geisha-ness on display (comprehensively covered in the sumptuous extras). Just another sign that in his relentless quest for beauty, Marshall lost the Geisha plot.