Monday, 31 July 2006

DVD: Memoirs of a Geisha

Tag: Japanese Cinderella

There's not much I can say about the film, and that's not a compliment. I haven't read the book so I cannot argue on how good the film version is compared to the original; but I can say that the film's biggest problem is that the story is as original as ordering beer in a pub.
We've seen it hundreds of times before by the time we were four: a child torn away from the family, mocked by her evil sisters, catches the sight of a beautiful prince by chance. By sheer luck or something similar she becomes the one everybody looks up to (in this particular case, it means she's a geisha), and after a few problems here and there they all live happily ever after.
There are a few deviations from the formula; the eventual salvation is not as sweet as in the Disney version. But you get the point quickly enough, which means that what you really notice is the only aspect where the film truly delivers: the looks.
The film looks like a moving picture; it's just stunning photography. Every scene is a work of art, and you just sit there and say "wow"! Production values don't stop there: the John Williams score is excellent and original, mixing oriental themes into his more familiar repertoire. What caught me more than usual is the crisp sound of the recording, and I wasn't surprised to read in the credit that the score was recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy: whatever this guy records is gold.
But can a film stand on looks and score alone? No. And to emphasize how badly things are, you only need to listen to the actors' voices: for some reason or another, they all speak English. That not exactly authentic, but by now you learn not to expect much from a Hollywoodian piece of work. But things are worse: to make the film sound "authentic", all the actors speak in this crap oriental accent that is usually reserved for racist jokes. And the worst thing about it all is that in the DVD's supplementals they tell you about the mentoring the actors had to go through in order to develop that "unique" accent. To think they went all this way when all they needed to do was to let the actors speak Japanese.
Best scene: The hero geisha gives a dancing performance. Choreographed performances cannot look any better.
Picture quality: There is some noise here and there, but the colors are just magnificent and take over the show to become the main event.
Sound quality: The sound effects are nothing spectacular and you don't feel immersed in the film. Things change, however, when the music score takes the front stage with its clear and present presentation.
Overall: 2.5 stars, mainly for the looks and the score.

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