PicturePresented at 2.40:1 at 1080p using AVC/MPEG-4. Geisha presents to us a visual splendour of a film so it's fantastic not to see this let down by a poor transfer. The film though falls into a number of categories. A lot of scenes were shot at night or in dimly lit interiors. These are, in the main, perfectly adequate showing the required level of detail you would expect. I felt a few scenes were a little too dark, but this is in stark contrast to scenes where every detail is there to see. On a brief sojourn to deliver a guitar to a Geisha it's pouring down, its at night, its dimly lit. The clay tiles on the roof are just visible but even on these you can still see the small trickles of water running off them and into the guttering, superb.
A lot of these indoor scenes were also filmed though light bamboo 'walls' or thin silks. This gives the overall image at these times an obvious softness and is in no way a result of a poor transfer. This was an artistic decision taken from the start. You'll either agree with this or nor, for my own part it certainly never distracts and sometimes adds to the ambiance.
Outdoor scenes are glorious. A full, wide colour palette is in operation; focusing on the rich detailed fabrics, gold, reds, greens, blues and creams. During the time of war this colour palette is reduced somewhat, more focusing on greys, light browns and ochre. The detail shown in these flowing garments is exemplary, the fine intricate embroidery coming to the fore with no lack of sharpness. And it is with this sharpness, albeit with no enhancement at all on show, that distant objects on screen still retain their definition. Whilst overlooking the rooftops of the town, buildings in the distance which on standard DVD revealed nothing to the viewer on this Blu-Ray release they have structure, small windows, even the window frames can be identified. Sharpness perfect during the many shots down corridors of bamboo or other wooden structures offering a truly 3-dimensional image. Speaking of wood, the texture and grain shown throughout is fascinating in itself.
Slightly let down by some overly dark scenes then Geisha is one of those films that you watch on HD and sometimes you wonder at the screen, looking at the visuals more than concentrating on plot itself. It's a wonderful transfer to just sit back and look at.
SoundTwo English tracks are on offer. A 4.6mbps PCM and a slightly more subdued Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 640kbps. I did some comparisons during certain scenes and although the Dolby Digital Plus is a worthy and respectable sound track in terms of clarity and steerage it just doesn't quite live up to the full aural immersion that the PCM offers up.
From the outset of the movie you realise you're not just in for a verbal treat from the front stage. Thunder and rain dominate the opening proceedings, the thunder especially rumbling from side to side surrounds; with your sub kicking in for good measure. The front stage itself always offers up the dialogue clearly, usually emanating from the centre, whilst your front left and right will lovingly embrace and present the detailed strings and percussion of John Williams' score. This offers a wide stage at the front, dialogue as mentioned firmly locked and clear from the centre.
Surrounds are in use throughout the film. In the town you will hear cars pass, bustling traders and voices emanating from left or right. At the start of war you will hear planes fly overhead long before you see them. In the countryside birds and the haunting winds can easily be distinguished.
I was surprised at how much the surrounds kicked in during Geisha. Being a predominantly character driven piece I was expecting detailed fronts, which we most definitely get, but not as much action in the surrounds. Having it there though does not for one moment distract from what's going on up front and it suits the nature and pace of the film well.
- Commentary with Director Rob Marshall producer John DeLuca.
An interesting enough piece from this pair. Highlighting the history of the movie, the research which went into it and the continual work from the actors whilst the movie was being shot. A lot of this is contained and repeated within the extras which follow but its good to see it here as they discuss specific aspects of prooduction whilst the secene is playing out on screen.
- Commentary with Colleen Atwood, John Myhre and Pietro Scalia.
Commentary from costume, production and editing. Further information is presented on these various three aspects of the film being shot. Again presented in shortened form in the extras which follow. I have to admit I tired of this quite quickly and it never really captured my full attention.
- Sayuris Journey : From Novel to Screen - 14 mins.
A short interview predominantly with Arthur Golden, author of the original novel, discussing the time it took to realise his novel and the research he went into bringing it to the page. It continues to discuss the production staff's interest in the book and the time it took for this novel to reach the screen.
- The Road to Japan - 5.30 mins.
The production team travel to Japan to research the background for the movie they are about to make. They visit temples, talk to apprentice Geisha. Returning to Japan to film some exterior shots.
- Geisha Boot camp - 12 mins.
During pre-production and filming the actresses had access to a wide variety of support material. Speech coaching lessons, but mainly a crash course in how to act like a Geisha. They learned how to walk in the kimono, dance, look and generally entertain as the Geshia does.
- Building the Hanamachie - 12 mins.
It was decided not to film in Japan as they couldn't find a small village which had not been tainted by modern life. In the end in sunny California they build a section of the village. At 400' x 400' this was no mean feat. Perfect attention to detail is adhered to. Taking 175 men, 3.5 months they imported cedar wood and bark from Japan to give an authentic look. They also build a perfect scale model of the village in which they could send down small cameras to give the director a sort of on the fly storyboard.
- The Look of a Geisha - 16 mins.
They had to research what Geisha of the time actually looked like. Bought in kimonos from that time and made their own as well in an incredibly short space of time. Artistic license was used a little to 'update' the image somewhat for today's viewing public.
- Music of Memoirs - 10 mins
John Williams on camera discussing the music he wrote for this film. Like any good Williams score he has themes. Here he had a cello for the Sayuri theme and violins for The General. An interesting look at Williams' work and the world renowned musicians he brings in to bring his score to life.
- A Geisha's Dance - 8 mins
A look at how the John Deluca's choreography of the Snow Dance came about. Those shoes were something else.
- The World of the Geisha - 8.30 mins
A brief look at the history of the Geisha tradition. Originally men, it eventually evolved to be run by women for women. Only as artisans never sellers of their flesh. This also covers Liza Dalby's own experiences in Japan as she became the first Western woman to become Geisha.
- The Way of the Sumo - 6 mins
Another brief look at one aspect of Japanese society, Sumo. Interviews with the two real life Sumo wrestlers in the movie, the training they had to go through, the history of Sumo and also a brief interview with the Sumo referee. Like the Geisha themselves they are dedicated and go to extreme lengths for the sake of their art.
- Rob Marshall's Story - 10 mins
A luvie montage with cast and crew saying how much they enjoy working with Marshall. Also covers Marshall's early career from amateur dramatics to the Broadway stage.
- A Day with Chef Nobu Matsuhisa - 10 mins
This world famous chef, who owns a restaurant in Los Angeles, realised they were making a film of the book and asked for a part. He was given a small part helping the wash kimonos in a stream. Here though he shows us three recipes, essentially it's a short cookery program.
- Photo Galleries
A collection of photos from behind the scenes and Geisha.
- Chef Nobu's Recipes
Textual form of the recipes Chef Nobu presented to us earlier. I know what I'll be preparing for my next dinner party.
- Scene Index
This is like Chapters on steroids. Like the index at the end of the book it allows you easy quick access to parts of the movie. For instance, select "BARON" and you are immediately taken to the first Baron scene, when this scene finishes the film immediately moves over to the next Baron scene and so on and so on. Takes a little getting used to and still obviously in the early stages of use and development but I think this could be an interesting, and well used, feature if implemented correctly.
Phew! - Memoirs of a Geisha offers up more selection in extras than your local Sushi bar. All of the extras contained here, perhaps with the exception of Marshall's history - which is a little too luvie, are all worth a watch and highly entertaining. Not only do they entertain though they are also very informative from a cultural point of view; presenting insights into the world of the Geisha which I'm sure not many in our hemisphere really understand.
What also comes across here is the complete dedication of the cast and crew whilst making this movie. Geisha themselves are dedicated, they choose their life then stick to it religiously. The people who made this film all show similar dedication. From the pre production work of crew, the building of an entire village with silk screen overhangs to limit and diffuse light, the cast learning the Geisha art and in some cases an additional language also, through to the individuals like Chef Nobu and John Williams, both of whom actually asked to be a part of this experience. These extras are extensive, compliment the film well and should really not be missed.
VerdictI must admit, I've never read the original novel this movie comes from. I have spoken to a colleague who has both read the novel and seen the film. It's the usual tale of "well the film doesn't quite cover all that's in the book" and how many times have we heard this phrase yet come away with a wonderful piece of work. That's what I feel we have with Memoirs of a Geisha, I loved it. I was enthralled by young Sayuri's story, wrapped up in her life as tightly as she herself is wrapped in her kimono. Obviously some of the themes contained within the whole cultural experience of Geisha leave a rather bitter taste in the mouth. Try and put this to one side though and join Sayuri on her journey of loss, understanding, maturity, anguish and love.
Character and plot development are excellent, all of the actors in Geisha seeming to enjoy their roles. Certainly you can't fault their dedication to the project as can been seen in the extras and the commentaries. In fact I can't really fault anyone who showed what they did when contributing to this film. A film of visual splendour, if only let down by a few overly dark scenes. Glorious use of colour and light there are some scenes presented here which will, yet again for the High Def experience, have you picking your jaw up off the floor and wondering why you hadn't migrated over to the format sooner. Additional material included is not the usual banal affair but something that's actually worth watching and as a whole package this is a wonderful disc to have in your collection.
I enjoyed Rob Marshal's previous work Chicago and I was fully captivated and immersed in Geisha. Life looks rosy for this director with a flair for image and presentation. Maturing slightly with Geisha in so far that not only has he offered presentation but fully rounded character development I look forward with eagerness to his next project.
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- Commentary with Director Rob Marshall producer John DeLuca.