The Bad Review Revue

Taking a page from’s Bad Review Revue, here are a few choice quotes from reviews of “Memoirs of a Geisha”:

“A more fitting title for Memoirs of a Geisha would have been Cliffs Notes of a Geisha.”
— Dustin Putman, THEMOVIEBOY.COM
Memoirs of a Geisha builds a beautiful garden, then runs an interstate through it to let more people in.”
“This is, in fact, quite an ugly film.”
“An Eastern movie made to resemble the most unchallenging Western ideal of what the East is.”
“Robin Swicord…who adapted the novel for the screen, doesn’t bother much with Golden’s prose, apparently because it wasn’t cliched enough.”
— Luke Y. Thompson, NEW TIMES
“The filmmakers make characters crasser, ignore nuances within geisha tradition and give characters attitudes and dialogue highly unlikely for Depression-era Japan.”
“A bloated melodrama more interested in poses than inner lives (according to some Japanese-culture-vultures, it gets the poses wrong, too).”
— Peter Canavese, GROUCHO REVIEWS
“More like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Memoirs of a Geisha.”
“…if ever a movie represented Hollywood marketing, this is it.”
— Laura Clifford, REELING REVIEWS

Memoirs of a Geisha []

3 Comments on “The Bad Review Revue

  1. There has been a wide range of criticism both of the novel and the film on a number of levels. Aside from the widely publicized criticism the film has received regarding the director’s casting decisions, the film as well as the novel have also been criticized as being based more from a white man’s fantasy rather than anything based in reality — and therefore do more harm than good in promoting understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture. Perhaps most importantly, it has been criticized as romanticizing prostitution as well as eroticizing and objectifying Asian women.
    It is also worth noting that “The Grace Lee Project”, a film produced by independent distributor Women Make Movies, has opened at New York’s Film Forum. The following observation regarding the film was made by a reviewer for a local paper:
    “Smartly counterprogrammed opposite the orientalized depictions of Asian
    femininity in Memoirs of a Geisha, The Grace Lee Project is a breezy
    first-person video essay that goes in search of the average Asian
    American woman, all the while wondering if there is in fact such a
    A link to the full review can be found at,lim,70945,20.html
    I’ve also listed links and excerpts below to a few noteworthy critiques along with a link to an article that briefly describes the controversy the film has raised in both China and Japan.
    Thank you,
    Steve Silver
    “Memoirs of a Geisha” Reinforces Image of Japan as an Exotic, Erotic Place,
    Duke Expert Says
    Excerpt: “Memoirs of a Geisha” is likely to give Americans the sense that they have learned something about Japan, but it actually reinforces stereotypes of Japan as an exotic, mysterious place, a Duke University expert on Japanese culture says.
    “It’s not that he falsified what could have been the life history of a
    geisha; it¹s more what parts he chose to emphasize and play up,” she said.
    “This is appealing to the fantasy of Western guys.”
    “Going Geisha”
    Note: This is a critique of the novel, not the film, but offers an interesting and insightful perspective from an Asian-American woman.
    Excerpt: There’s still a lot of money to be made on us sexy Oriental females, it seems. You would think people would be over it already, what with the “geisha” figures in Giacomo Puccini opera Madama Butterfly and the musical Miss Saigon swelling the ranks of the passive, the pathetic, the eager-to-be-sexually colonized. Add delicious subservience-Madama Butterfly and Miss Saigon off themselves after their white dudes hike up their britches and run off-and “famous Oriental sexual techniques” and you have something as real as an Asian blow-up doll, all hot air and fake plastic. What was behind the urge to do the geisha thing? Was it what bell hooks called “getting a bit of the other”? Because for everyone who was bored with being themselves, it seemed like geisha was the new persona to try on.
    But for all the buildup about the book being so exotic, what I found was surprisingly familiar. Memoirs read like some kind of bodice-ripper romance/Shogun hybrid, and our geisha Sayuri was pretty much just a Cinderella in kimono. Behind its ostentatiously researched “Japanese” facade lies the same old story of a poor little girl who transcends suffering and icky sex to find her prince.
    Excerpt: Edward Said’s 1978 book “Orientalism” is one of the foundation texts of postcolonial study, positing that in order to come to terms with Eastern culture, outsiders have had to create a unifying concept of a monolithic Orient. A solipsistic manner of thinking, Orientalism reduces the complex Asian world to simplistic contrasts between the Orient and the Occident, the civilized and understandable Western world. It becomes a pure binary construction, the Self and the Other and, in turn, this supposed understanding of the Oriental identity helps maintain power relationships. For millions of Americans Marshall’s “Geisha” will come to exist as the ultimate simulacrum of all Asian culture, just as Golden’s book became Japan for many readers whose awareness of the world across the Pacific went no deeper than a tray of orange chicken from Panda Express.
    It’s still a story about pre-WWII Japan written originally written by a guy from Tennessee who was born in 1956. It’s still directed by a 45-year-old guy from Wisconsin and filmed largely in Los Angeles. The editor’s from Italy, the costume designer from rural Washington. The composer is John Williams, enjoying playing around with Asian instruments and perhaps flashing back to the early moments of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Even the so-called “geisha consultant” was raised in Indiana. These people are the absolute masters of their profession, with Oscars and Tonys and Golden Globes to prove it. I refuse to close the door to the idea that these people could have made a great movie about Japan and geishas, but this isn’t it. “Geisha” resurrects a deceased world, but its view of that world can’t cut through the mystery and exoticism.
    `Memoirs of a Geisha’ film kicks up storm in Japan and China
    Knight Ridder Newspapers
    BEIJING – China and Japan, which are at each other’s throats over any number
    of issues, finally seem to agree on one thing: Hollywood’s latest release is
    a cultural dud.
    The Hollywood movie “Memoirs of a Geisha,” which had its world premiere in
    Tokyo on Tuesday, has triggered consternation in Japan because none of the
    three lead actresses are Japanese; two of them are Chinese and another is an
    ethnic Chinese from Malaysia.
    If there’s dismay in Japan, there’s outrage in China, but for a different
    reason: Many Chinese are beside themselves that the film’s star, Zhang Ziyi,
    China’s best-known actress, is depicted in the movie as having sexual
    relations with a Japanese man.

  2. Um, Gen, those comments could be generically applied to, quite literally, almost every translation from book to movie that has ever been done. Your complaints are well placed and appreciated by me in particular – because in my opinion to change is to lessen during these transitions, as you attempt observe here, in a roundabout way.
    The only film that I’ve seen that is fairly scrupulous in its treatment of the source material is the first Harry Potter film, and possibly the second. “The Lord of the Rings” films were changed dramatically, and far for the worse. “American Psycho” was toned down. No one, as far as I can tell, has made even a reasonable facsimile of any of the Three Musketeers stories, from the first to “The Man in the Iron Mask”.
    Typically, in casting and dialogue, book-movie conversions are disasterous, and no less-so here for your current pet project. And history to movie conversions are similarly bastardized. Witness “Kingdom of Heaven”, which included some shockingly embarassing moments, such as keeping King Baldwin around for another 2 or 3 years after his death for no apparent reason.
    BTW, have you climbed anything to hang a banner of protest for this thing?

  3. It is truly sad that even with the ability to communicate with anyone on the planet we humans still imagine people in other parts of the world to be so desperately encrusted in mystery. Are we that bored as a species that we must create elaborate mystery cults? Yes.
    Three points:
    1) Obviously casting a Chinese actress as the main character was a terrible slap in the face to Japanese actresses. Is there not one qualified Japanese actress who can speak as much English as Zhang Ziyi? Is the world really stupid enough to believe that this Chinese girl is Japanese, even though she can’t even read Japanese lines? They might as well have cast Uma Thurman, who also can’t read Japanese lines at all.
    2) I can imagine the idiocy of US military people after the war believeing that geishas may be sexual objects, but the idea of a Japanese girl choosing to sleep with a foreign occupier who has just nuked two metropolitan areas is a bit over the top, especially when it is only to make someone else jealous or annoyed in some way.
    3) No-name “geisha” from made-for-TV period dramas in Japan do moves 100 times more sophisticated than the dances in this film. Why couldn’t one of those actresses be hired or at least a Japanese choreographer? Are we to believe that people lined up to see such simple arts? The word geisha has two parts: gei – meaning art, and sha – meaning practitioner. If there is no art, there is no geisha. As it is said in Japanese, she had no gei. Gei ga nai hito.