Intrigue and ambition in the floating world of Japanese courtesans is defeated by glorious images and excessive art direction in manga-inspired “Sakuran.” Feature bow by renowned photographer Mika Ninagawa has a tired story that will feel familiar even to those who missed “Memoirs of a Geisha” and leaves thesps all dressed up with nowhere to go. Asian-themed fests will want to look at this lush effort, but international prospects are limited.
Kiyoha (Anna Tsuchiya) is a rebellious, powerhouse courtesan on the rise in 18th century Edo’s pleasure quarter. Choosy about her customers, and both boon and headache to her employers, Kiyoha wants to find her freedom rather than have a rich merchant buy it. Yarn depicts the prostie dazzling men, and catfighting with her jealous colleagues, but story remains lifeless. The photographer’s eye of first-time helmer Ninagawa both serves and betrays her. While the beauty of the images cannot be denied, even when the camera is moving, pic feels like a still photograph recreating the tableaux of a ukiyoe scroll. Anna Tsuchiya (“Kamikaze Girls”) embodies an ambitious woman’s energy, but has insufficient acting chops to carry the pic. Tech credits are top quality.