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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Memoirs of a Chinese Lady Speaking English

Memoirs of a Geisha

This is a beautifully filmed movie, first of all. It had to be. It wasn't going to have any cred otherwise. Sure the story is good and the acting is fine, but the problems with this film run very deep. It is a major Hollywood glamour film trying to pass itself off as cinematic wonder.

Memoirs of a Geisha tells the story of a young girl who is sold by her parents to a Geisha house when her father realizes that her mother is dying. The girl is raised at the Geisha house and trained to become one of the greatest Geisha ever. Geisha, which means "artist," is seen as a social tradition and respected in all societies. They do not consider themselves prostitutes, while a Geisha will, once they are older take bids for one man to pay to take her virginity. Further reading on Geisha reveals that this is not as correct or important to being a Geisha as the movie proclaims.

The look of the film is stunning and the visual awards it recieved were probably deserved. At times the viewer is left with visions reminiscant of the Asian beauty in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers But, then the actors open their mouths. You see, it's not obvious and many Americans won't catch it, but there is most definitely a difference between Japanese and Chinese. I don't even think that I noticed it right away or even knew why it was that I was feeling uneasy. The fact that the movie is in English did throw me off, however. I guess after seeing enough movies in subtitles, when watching an English movie about Japanes living in Japan things seem incongruent and fake. Then add to this that many of the leads are Chinese and that they look and sound like Chinese (although I'd have never been able to tell the difference unless given the opportunity to see one trying to pass as the other)and you are left with a movie that appears to be lying to you. I've never been one to worry about authenticity in film. I believe that one should watch a movie with an open mind and accept the film you are being shown on it's own merit and not what you think the movie should be like. For instance, judge the acting and the directing and story-telling on it's own and don't say that it didn't stay true to history or that it was telling the wrong story. If I'm making a movie I'm telling the story and creating the world and can fictionalize it how I see fit. On the other hand, film is not like theatre which can more easily take liberties. Theatre audiences will accept most anything because, after all, if you are sitting in a theatre watching My Fair Lady you've already had to suspend your believe that you are in a Houston/New York/L.A. theatre and not in London, England in 1901. In a movie, if the film says the actors are in Bagdad, Iraq, you better make the audience think they are really in Bagdad, Iraq. I'm not buying into a film that says it is in Japan during World War II and yet there are Chinese actors speaking English trying to pass themselves off as Japanese. Maybe you are wondering if it's really that obvious. To an ignorant American, perhaps not. Other than it being in English, I couldn't put my finger on it, but something wasn't right about the actress. When I read that she is, indeed, Chinese I had an epiphany. By golly, they don't all look the same. There is a difference. Aside from these blunders in casting and the choice to use English instead of subtitles, the film was good. The story, while furthering an incorrect stereotype of Geisha as prostitutes, was well told and compelling and the actors do a good job. My issues with the film won't bother many people, but it was enough of a distraction for me to keep it from being something great and made it okay.

2.5 Bulls

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