[box cover]

Memoirs of a Geisha: Special Edition

Director Rob Marshall's adaptation of Arthur Golden's best-selling novel is beautifully shot, scored, and costumed, but — like the characters it follows through the twisting streets and alleys of 1930s Kyoto — it is also very deliberate, as well as a bit inscrutable. Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) tells the story of young Chiyo (an engaging Suzuka Ohgo), whose poor fishing family sells her into slavery. She winds up a servant girl/geisha-in-training in a successful okiya (geisha house) in Kyoto, where she quickly makes an enemy of celebrated geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li, in her English-language debut). A chance meeting with the handsome Chairman (Ken Watanabe) fuels Chiyo's desire to become a geisha herself so she can win his heart when she grows up. Thanks to Hatsumomo's devious plotting, for a long time Chiyo's dream seems out of reach. But then the beautiful Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) takes Chiyo under her wing and transforms her into Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), the most sought-after geisha in the city. Sayuri still cherishes her dreams of the Chairman, but duty and eventually war, thwart her hopes, with the latter threatening to wipe out the geisha tradition altogether. Sayuri's struggle for fulfilling happiness amid the rigid constraints of the geisha's lifestyle is a compelling story, but Marshall seems more captivated by his characters' fluttering kimonos, sideways glances, and fan dances than he does their emotional journey. Consequently, Memoirs of a Geisha is beautiful to look at but slow in spots, lingering on shots of trickling water and bobbing cherry blossoms while the geishas' inner torment goes largely unexpressed. John Williams' haunting score and Colleen Atwood's gorgeous costumes engage the viewer's senses, but the film never quite connects with the heart. That said, the music, sets, make-up, costumes, choreography, and art direction are fantastic, and the actors give largely convincing performances. Fans of the book won't be disappointed, and those looking for a cultural snapshot will probably be fascinated. Sony's two-disc special edition of the film offers plenty of behind-the-scenes details on how the movie's world was created — and "created" is absolutely the right word, since crew members built an entire Japanese town from the ground up for filming. The 11 production featurettes on the bonus disc cover the construction, as well as the intense "geisha bootcamp" the actresses went through, the background of chief geisha consultant Liza Dalby (the only non-Japanese woman ever to become a geisha), the details of sumo wrestling, and much more. Also included on the bonus disc are three recipes from chef Nobu Matsuhisa, who had a cameo role in the film, and two photo galleries. The movie itself is on Disc One, along with two audio commentaries, one by Marshall and co-producer John DeLuca, the other by Atwood, production designer John Myhre, and editor Pietro Scalia. Separate full-screen and anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) versions of the film are available for purchase; the full-screen transfer (provided by Sony for review) is beautiful, and its accompanying English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio is crisp and clear. A French 5.1 track is also available, as are English and French subtitles. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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