In search of geisha
With three Chinese leads, Memoirs of a Geisha is
bound to create a stir
By Chris Betros
|From left, director Rob
Marshall, Gong Li, Kaori Momoi, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Watanabe,
Koji Yakusho and Yuki Kudoh
Photos by Chris Betros
Ever since Memoirs of a Geisha finished
filming in Japan in late January, the media focus has been
on why producer Steven Spielberg and director Rob Marshall
(of Chicago fame) cast three Chinese actressesZiyi Zhang,
Gong Li and Michelle Yeohin the lead roles of three
geisha. In a video message to Japanese media, Spielberg avoided
the topic, but said he thought Arthur Goldens book was
one of the most culturally appealing stories he had ever read
and expressed confidence it would appeal to audiences in any
country. Besides the three leads, the Japanese cast includes
Ken Watanabe, Koji Yakusho, Kaori Momoi and Yuki Kudoh.
Set in 1920s Japan, Memoirs tells the story of Nitta Sayuri,
who is taken from her home at the age of 9 to undergo training
to become a geisha. She learns dance, music, the art of wearing
kimono, how to elaborately do makeup and hair, eventually
attracting the amorous attentions of two suitors (Watanabe
Marshall said it was an exquisite journey making Memoirs,
which will be released in Japan in December with the title
Sayuri. We had to film most of it in LA because we couldnt
find any places here that still looked like 1920s and 1930s
Japan. We ended up building a little Japan in Ventura, Calif.
For the final scenes, we filmed in Kyoto temples that had
never allowed filming before.
Yeoh and Gong were initially intimidated when Marshall asked
them to play geisha, as was Ziyi who plays Sayuri. It
was like a fantasy world to me, said Hong Kong star
Yeoh, adding that she felt audiences would pay no attention
to the stars nationalities.
Watanabe and Momoi were both cautious. I talked with
Rob about whether this would be a culturally accurate film
or a concept film, Watanabe said. Since it is
a fantasy world, the details were not as important as they
would have been in something like The Last Samurai.
Momoi was shocked when she learned the leads wouldnt
be Japanese. She also felt the film would have been better
in Japanese. Then I realized the book is told through
the eyes of an American and for the film, further filtered
through an American directors lens, she said.
There were some incorrect details, such as the makeup
being not thick enough on the geisha, but I think it will
appeal to younger audiences.
It is beautiful and mysterious, Marshall said
of the geisha world. A lot of people still dont
know what geisha really are. Golden wanted to lift that veil
in his book, and in our movie we honor a world that has beauty,
joy and heartbreak.
Miss Universe Japan Final
2005 winner is crowned at
Tokyo International Forum
from top left: the 15 finalists appear on the stage; hosts
Junichiro Ishida and Lilico; 21-year-old Aichi model Yukari
Kuzuya is crowned Miss Universe Japan; British group Diva
Photographer turned pub landlord
Expats and Japanese in Meguro looking for a taste of England
can always be found at the Meguro Tavern, established seven
years ago by former professional photographer Garth Roberts,
48. With seating for 100 people, a food menu of British and
European dishes, six draft beers and over 100 cocktailsalong
with a large selection of Scotch, Irish and other premium
whiskiesthe Meguro Tavern is a fun watering hole.
What first brought you to Japan?
I came in the late 1970s as a photographer. I ended up co-producing
a large language school that was a residential program in
Why did you open this pub?
There were no pubs like this around in the early days. While
I was doing the residential program, I really needed this
kind of establishment for my teachers and students.
Who are your clientele?
Now, 60 percent Japanese, 40 percent foreign.
Whats the best thing about the Meguro Tavern?
The furnishings, food and quality. We employ serious bartenders
who know how to do their thing. And our fish and chips are
the best in Tokyo.
How do you market the pub?
Advertising and flyers. I have been out sometimes in a British
bobbys uniform handing out flyers at Meguro Station
before the Japanese police moved me along. That must have
been a sight. Not as much as when I rented a Grenadiers
uniform like the red guards at Buckingham Palace.
Whats your daily schedule like?
I get up about 10am. At noon Im on the computer doing
e-mails, marketing, designing menus, editing photos until
about 3 or 4pm. Then I come here.
What do you drink at night?
Gin and tonics or Guinness. Im always sober when I go
home around 3am. Whats the craziest thing youve
done in Japan? Probably skiing down a slope while wearing
a Frankenstein mask.
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