Memoirs of a Geisha Starring: Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, Ken Watanabe, Koji Yakusho Director: Rob Marshall The film: There's an almost endless list of faults you can mention - and that you're probably aware of before you even watch this film. Much of the criticism stems from Memoirs being the gaijins' (foreigners') take on the ancient Japanese phenomenon of the geisha or female entertainer. Based on the best-selling novel written in 1997 by American Arthur Golden, the team of US producers (who include Steven Spielberg) at Miramax brought in Chicago director Rob Marshall and cast two mainland actresses and one Malaysian-Chinese in the three female lead roles. The casting is said to have accounted for the frosty reception at the Japanese box office when the film was released last December. On the mainland, the authorities - apparently angry about big-name stars Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li taking part - banned the film. Male leads are played by Japanese. So much for the controversies. How about the movie? Geisha was nominated for six academy awards, as the DVD box loudly declares. It omits to mention that these were in technical categories. And technically, the film is a pleasure: sets recreate 1920s and 1930s Kyoto and are saturated in rich colour; location shots at temples in Japan blend imperceptibly; and the score enriches the mood. However, the plot moves unnecessarily slowly, with the running time at just under 21/2 hours. The story is about Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo as a young girl, then Zhang), who is sold as a nine-year-old by her impoverished parents to a Kyoto geisha broker. Its proprietors and head geisha Hatsumomo (Gong, below) give her hell during her long, slavish apprenticeship. Taken under the wing of Hatsumomo's rival, Mameha (Yeoh), Chiyo shines and is renamed Sayuri, when she becomes qualified. Two men vie to deflower the fresh graduate. Celebrity chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (of the Nobu restaurants) has a cameo as a kimono artisan. The extras: Two versions are on release in Hong Kong. The double disc set includes a small arty paperback of film stills. Disc one has commentary from the Miramax production team and director and co-producer John DeLuca. Disc two is stuffed with short extras. Documentaries mostly look at the adaptation from page to celluloid. Nobuyuki features again - this time in an unrelated 'day in the life of a chef' short. The verdict: Polished and watchable, although too long. A shame about the casting controversy - none of the three female leads delivers an exceptional performance.