Several years ago you couldn’t take the subway, sit in a coffee shop or go to a bookstore without seeing at least one person deeply engrossed in a copy of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood scooped up the rights and turned the best selling book into a lavish holiday film.
In his follow-up to the Academy Award winning musical Chicago, director Rob Marshall spares no expense to bring Memoirs to the screen. The film is beautifully shot, wonderfully costumed—although there are some historical inaccuracies such as one character wearing a kimono crossed right over left, the way Japanese people clothe their dead—and filled with impossibly good-looking actors. Memoirs looks fabulous and is great eye candy.
On the surface Marshall was a good choice for this material as he is at his best when dealing with theatrical characters, and the Geishas seen in Memoirs are nothing if not dramatic. The problem lies once the viewer tries to scratch the surface. There’s nothing there!
At the heart of the book is a love story that begins when Sayuri—Japan’s Next Top Geisha—is only a child and meets a businessman who is kind to her. As she becomes an adult she never forgets this act of kindness and carries a torch for him. Marshall makes a play for our emotions at this point of the story, but never connects. Because it is such a passionless affair Memoirs of a Geisha feels like a beautiful crystal vase—amazing to look at, but utterly empty inside.