Turning Japanese

When Rob Marshall agreed to direct Memoirs of a Geisha, Hollywood’s adaptation of the 1997 Arthur Golden bestseller about the rise of a penniless Japanese girl who became her profession’s brightest star, his creative team from the film Chicago jumped to follow him. It’s always a pleasure to work on any film with a focus on visual elements – the requirement for ravishing beauty was a bonus. It probably didn’t hurt that authentic locations for the 1930s geisha district could not be found, and had to be created from scratch on Los Angeles sound stages, and a whole section of Kyoto recreated on a Californian ranch. Marshall’s wish for the look and feel of the film to ‘reflect that it is a memory piece told years later’ gave further scope to the creative imagination of Oscar-winning production designer John Myhre. While Myhre has been careful not to overwhelm the film’s real masterpieces – the geishas’ embroidered kimonos – it’s fair to say he never encountered a piece of fluttering silk or falling cherry blossom that he didn’t like. So far, Oscar handicappers suggest the film itself doesn’t quite measure up to competitors such as Brokeback Mountain, and the casting of Chinese stars in Japanese roles, speaking accented English, has raised eyebrows, particularly in Asia. The designs, however, are just the ticket for awards success.

Memoirs of a Geisha opens in cinemas on 13 January

By Charles Gant

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