Went and saw Memoirs of a Geisha tonight with Lisa. I found it an interesting movie. Not particularly great, but it held my interest and showed me new things. Some of the biggest criticisms of the film centered around it being over-simplified and reduced to a traditional Hollywood love story. Having not read the novel, I can't comment on its faithfulness, or lack thereof, to the book, but even I picked up on a superficial vibe running through the film.
To my eye, the film played like an amalgam of Spirited Away and Dangerous Beauty, with just a faint touch of Grave of the Fireflies. If you watch it, you can pick out specific scenes that are straight out of those other movies. That's not a good sign for a film touted early on as an Oscar contender. I did like Geisha early on, when it was bitter, cruel and wholly beautiful. It had an honest edge to it, and that made it real. The film lost its way, however, when it reached World War II. Remember the old adage of "Show, don't tell"? Well, suddenly the filmmakers lose their nerve, and have the characters constantly telling the audience how bad things are, but we never see anyone suffering. At this point, the plot derails and becomes a silly little romantic conspiracy fueled by the idiot plot. Which is a shame, because they had something good going up unto that point.
It think the biggest problem the movie faces is the limitations of a theatrical film. Mainly, running time. At two-and-a-half hours, the movie is both too short and too long. Too long because there are a lot of pointless scenes that don't do much to advance the plot, but are necessary to get the characters from point A to point B. Too short because a great deal is obviously cut to make the movie fit a time limitation, but those cuts undermine the film as a whole. World War II supposedly changes everything, but the entirety of the war is covered by a two-minute camera pan over a stream as a voiceover explains how traumatic life has become. I strongly suspect Geisha would've worked much, much better as one of those grand old miniseries in the Shogun tradition, with the episodes strung out over the better part of a week with which to give all the rich plot, character and detail the attention they deserve. Breaking the film down in my mind, I can already see how it would best unfold as four two-hour installments. Alas, that is not to be, but I'll bet it would ultimately be more fulfilling a show.
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