I can summarize my thoughts about this movie in three words: It’s not real.
I haven’t read the best-selling novel, so I don’t know how the movie compares with the novel which was probably better than the movie.
I was not too impressed by the movie. I didn’t mind the characters speaking in English. I know for a fact that even a kabuki play performed in English can be almost as impressive as in Japanese.
I also didn’t mind so much about the lead roles being played by non-Japanese actresses. Of course, I would’ve preferred Japanese actresses. Like Keiko Matsuzaka or Yoko Shimada as Mameha. And maybe Yukie Nakama or Hikaru Nishida as Sayuri. For Hatsumomo, Riona Hazuki (also speaks English) or Makiko Esumi could have done it.
The technical aspects of the movie were fine, like the photography, musical score (by John Williams no less), and background sets (even though much of the movie was not filmed in Japan).
What didn’t click with me was the story and how it progressed (or didn’t progress). First of all, the idea of a young girl falling in love at first sight with a man old enough to be her father and then deciding to become a geisha just to be able to meet him again and possibly marry him is really far-fetched, if not preposterous.
Sure, when I was small, I’ve fallen in love with women old enough to be my mother, like Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, and my summer school teacher. But me becoming a famous actor in order to meet her and marry her?? Wouldn’t she be married by the time I’m old enough to get married??
Even in a fictional story, there are limits to believability.
There were gaps in the storyline. I couldn’t figure out how Sayuri became the No. 1 geisha. We hardly saw her do anything. The movie didn’t show the many hours of song and dance practice the geisha has to go through. The scenes of the geisha dancing during practice were too short (they weren’t real geisha either). The movie did not bother to build up a plot showing her getting better and better at singing and dancing as a geisha. Just suddenly she’s No. 1. Even that seemingly spectacular solo dance she did was not geisha-like at all.
Another question that lingered in my head was, why didn’t they wear the geisha hairstyle?? Hatsumomo always had her hair down. The beautiful actress looked more like a catwalk fashion model instead of a 1930s geisha. And Sayuri, well, even those fake maiko (apprentice geisha) we often see in Kyoto look better than her. In Kyoto, ordinary women can go to these geisha makeover studios and get made up and dressed up as a maiko for an afternoon. Then they walk around Kyoto while many foreign tourists think they are for real.
There was one elderly woman character in the okiya, I think she was Auntie or Granny. Well, the makeup to make her look old didn’t work. It was obviously fake.
So the Chairman had fallen in love with Sayuri. How did that happen? We hardly saw them together. Another gap in the story, I thought. How come only Pumpkin had an English name while the other women had Japanese names? Why didn’t Sayuri try to search for her lost sister afterward?
The sumo wrestlers at ringside, they didn’t look Japanese (of course not, they were from California). It was fun seeing Mainoumi (Shuhei Nagao) in the ring. He was a very popular wrestler.
The only actress I liked was Suzuka Ohga who played Sayuri as a child. She was a cutie. Also Mako, who played the father. He’s always featured in movies like these. So what happened to Tamlyn Tomita? Or even Joan Chen? And James Shigeta?
Overall, I thought the movie was very manga-like. It was like anime or manga characters being brought to life, and they were all costume players. Too many things about the movie were just so phony or superficial. A forgettable flick, I thought.