Director: Mika Ninagawa
Starring: Anna Tsuchiya, Kippei Shiina, Miho Kanno, Yoshino Kimura
Featuring popular model/singer Anna Tsuchiya (Kamikaze Girls) along with an experienced cast, music by one of my favourite J-artists Ringo Shiina, and with the preview images looking absolutely stunning, I was very much looking forward to this movie.
Unfortunately, something went wrong in the mix. I am not surprised to see that this is director Mika Ninagawa's first film, and even less surprised that she is one of Japan's most famous photographers. The visuals of the film are superb. The direction is not. But considering this is her first time out, she may well be one to watch for the future.
While sharing certain similarities with Memoirs of a Geisha, this is the story instead of the Oiran - basically prostitutes. The very best were not only very attractive, but culturally versed in the disciplines of poetry, dancing, music and calligraphy. To rise to the top and become a Tayu required a woman to be the complete package. Oirans however, were replaced by geishas in the mid 1700s, so we are looking at an older time period here.
I think the thing that jarred for me was that the whole film didn't feel like a period piece. Casting young actors and featuring a contemporary soundtrack didn't help, but maybe in the hands of a more experienced director and lead actress it could have worked. Anna Tsuchiya just wasn't up to the task of providing the strong, nuanced and classy performance that the role required. She came off as exactly what she is - a hip, young, modern woman pasted into a period setting.
The super-saturated cinematography was very stylish, highlighting the stunningly colourful sets and costumes that all but popped from the screen. Once again, however, this didn't seem to fit with the overall aesthetic of what is essentially a period drama - even considering that the film is based upon a manga.
Overall, this film will not be remembered as a classic, but for the stylish cinematography, interiors and costumes it is worth a watch, and an interesting take on a certain period and culture of Japanese history.