To their credit, Marshall and Swicord keep things from going in that direction, even if they also show precious little genuine curiosity about the real social fabric of the Far East. Then again, that's not really the point. Memoirs of a Geisha is about as Japanese as those folding screens they sell in the housewares department at Kmart (which, like most of Geisha's cast, are made in China). It's an unrepentantly artificial package, a bejeweled Oriental fantasia constructed on a series of Culver City sound stages and some Ventura County ranch land, a tribute to exquisite (and exquisitely phony) Hollywood craftsmanship. (The only thing missing is a cameo by the late Pat Morita, perhaps as a comical rickshaw driver.) To that end, Geishais much more of a musical than Chicago ever was, up to and including the hypnotizing dance routine performed by Sayuri (in sky-high platform sandals during an indoor snowstorm) on her first night as a geisha. No wonder the Chairman says that even the cherry blossoms are jealous of her. And we have no trouble believing him.
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA WAS DIRECTED BY ROB MARSHALL; WRITTEN BY ROBIN SWICORD, BASED ON THE BOOK BY ARTHUR GOLDEN; PRODUCED BY LUCY FISHER, DOUGLAS WICK AND STEVEN SPIELBERG. NOW PLAYING AT ARCLIGHT, HOLLYWOOD. SCHEDULED TO OPEN AT SELECT OC THEATERS ON DEC. 16 OR DEC. 23.