When it opens this weekend, Rob Marshall's adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha will already be trailing a long stream of scandal: the Japanese community is up in arms because the three female leads are played by Chinese actresses (admittedly a bit perplexing), and a certain faction of militant Chinese believe that the film's star, Zhang Ziyi, deserves to be stoned or something because she kisses a Japanese man onscreen. And supposedly Anthony Minghella was brought in last minute to write a voice over that would give the Hollywood-ized story more emotional heft. Fortunately none of this has anything to do with Memoirs' costume designer Colleen Atwood, who was honored at a screening at the Pacific Design Center earlier this week. In fact, the biggest scandal of the evening was the glacial pace of the sushi line and the fact that the bar ran out of sake. Atwood spoke before the screening, and the multi-Oscar winner admitted that it was "humbling" to tackle what is regarded as a national art form - the kimono - within only four months time, no less. However she also said a film such as this was "a gift" for a costume designer, and the lavish visuals simply cannot be argued with (though there are, predictably, historical sticklers who claim that the geishas' faces are not white enough, their coiffs not laquered enough, etc. etc.).
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I'm already a sucker for period dramas; I love the '20s and '30s; and I, like so many, am drawn to the "Asian mystique." So I'm basically Rob Marshall's dream audience member, and I left satisfied. Give me fluttering cherry blossoms, glowing red lanterns, and a ravishing, love ravaged bad girl played by Gong Li (in black, above), and I'll call that a good flick. The "geisha training" scenes felt like privileged access to a secret world, and frankly I don't care if these were westernized geishas; they looked amazing. All the product tie-ins currently overflowing out of stores must be doing a swift Christmas business: they've got everything from sake bubble bath to kimono-style doggie raincoats. And you know how much we all love our flip flops...I just hope nobody's banking on the paleface look, though, especially here in L.A.