The tradition of the geisha is a historic one, with a beautiful, but mysterious aura. The women who become the most famous geishas are celebrated, but the road to such fame is not a smooth one, a path lined with pain and servitude. As an impoverished nine year old, Chiyo finds herself sold to a geisha house and is put through the paces of the craft. She is abused and mistreated by those around her, especially when head geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li) becomes jealous of her beauty when she is older. Hatsumomo is vindictive and tries to do as much harm to Chiyo as possible, until the young geisha is taken in by Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), the geisha’s rival. Under her mentorship, Chiyo becomes Sayuri, a well trained geisha and soon, she is brought into a life with wealth and power all around her. But as World War II begins to bear down on Japan, what will become of Sayuri and the other geishas like her?
Memoirs of a Geisha was given some press over the decision to cast Chinese performers in Japanese roles, which upset some folks. This coverage was the most exposure the film would garner and without good reason, as it simply isn’t that good. I should say, the movie isn’t as good as it could have been, thanks to less than effective dramatic presence. I love epic period piece cinema, the costumes, the locations, the visuals, these kind of movies seem to be a feast for the eyes. Memoirs of a Geisha proves to be no exception, the lavish visuals are a treat and the production design is top notch. As wonderful as the visuals were, I found the narrative to be lackluster and while close to the book, a lot has been sacrificed here. I just found myself bored with this one, I loved the visuals, but nothing else stood out. Even so, the visuals alone warrant a look and as a rental, you could worse than Memoirs of a Geisha.
Video: How does it look?
Memoirs of a Geisha is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. This movie is a visual masterpiece, so of course, the transfer needed to be as good as possible. I was quite impressed with the treatment and while not perfect, it is close enough to earn our highest score. A few minor, very minor flaws can be seen, but they’re so small, I hesitate to even mention them. The lush visuals come across as sharp and refined, with no softness and no debris or grain to lessen the experience. I found colors to be rich and bold, beautiful to soak in, while black levels are stark and flawless. This is just a gorgeous presentation and the film’s visuals shine, so kudos to Sony for this impressive effort.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 option is excellent also, though not as flashy as the transfer, since the audio is a little more subtle. Not to say that power is limited, as this track can boom when it needs to, but I enjoyed the lower key elements even more. The music is brought to life in immersive fashion, it really adds to the movie and never distracts in the least. In fact, immersive is a word I would use to describe this entire experience, you’re swept into the movie and never taken back out. Through powerful moments and more delicate ones, the mix is always natural and atmospheric. This release also includes a French language track, as well as subtitles in English and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The first houses two audio commentary tracks, the first with director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca, the second with a trio of production staff members. I sampled both tracks and while passable, I wasn’t taken in by either session. Then again, I didn’t enjoy the film that much, so if you liked the movie, then perhaps these tracks will be of more interest. The second disc is home to eleven featurettes, none of which run fifteen minutes, so don’t expect much depth. Some clock in at under a minute, so for a two disc edition, this one is rather sparse on substantial supplements.