Zzzzzzzzzzzz... ah? Snort! Wha? Who—where?—ah, yes. Sorry, I must've nodded off there for a moment. We were going to discuss Memoirs of a Geisha, yes? Well then, let's get started! Memoirs of a Geisha is about a Japanese girl who... who... who becomes a gei... a geish... gei—zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Ah? Snort! Wha? The?—ah, yes. Again, apologies. It's just that thinking about Memoirs of a Geisha lulls me back into the feeling I had while watching it—one that can best be summed up by yawning, stretching, and repeatedly typing the last letter of the alphabet.
Which is weird, because Memoirs of a Geisha could have been a powerhouse. Following Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) as she grows from a servant girl to one of Japan's most revered geishas, Geisha watches as Sayuri learns from venerated geisha Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), fights against her conniving rival, Hatsumomo (Gong Li), and longs for a man who showed her kindness as a child (Ken Watanabe). It's a decently interesting, almost Dickensian sort of story, but director Rob Marshall (Chicago) seems determined to take it at face value. Boring face value.
Marshall—ignoring any real character, and barely paying lip service to emotion—makes Geisha nothing but empty pageantry. He succeeds, in a fashion; Geisha is a feast for the senses, at least for those easily enraptured by simplistic theatrics, misty vistas, and clichéd Yo-Yo Ma solos. But there's nothing beneath Marshall's profuse spectacle—the predictable Geisha is a film that never takes any risks, story- or character-wise, and while it never totally fails, it succeeds only at being an emptily gorgeous bit of Oscar-bait. (What's worse is that aside from being beautiful, Geisha's cast is also insanely talented—though you'd never know it from how they're treated here, like mere mannequins, useful only for maneuvering in front of dramatic lighting schemes.)
Alas, the most interesting thing about Geisha is its casting snafus—American obliviousness (or, more likely, indifference) has led to three Chinese actresses playing the Japanese leads; to say the least, the film's casting has proven controversial in both Japan and China, considering those two countries' caustic history and... an... zzzzzzzzzzz. Ah, there I go again. I mean, when a film can even suck the interest out of an incendiary topic like that, you know you're in trouble. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a nap.