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HomeAwardsAward Contender-John Myhre, Prod. designer, Geisha

Award Contender-John Myhre, Prod. designer, Geisha


The first step John Myhre took in preparing himself for doing the production design on Memoirs of a Geisha was to take trip to Japan, a country he’d never visited. “It was a total immersion in the setting, the beautiful old architecture and culture of the country,” he recalls. “I went to the sea of Japan and it was snowing, and it looked like one of those woodcuts.”One of the earliest challenges was deciding “what we’d shoot in Japan,” he says. In the end it turned out to be very little. Most of the movie wound up being filmed in California, putting even greater emphasis on the film’s production design.Myhre’s masterstroke was the construction of a little Japanese city on a horse ranch about an hour outside of Los Angeles that included a replica of the hanamachi, or geisha district of Kyoto, where much of the action in Memoirs takes place. The set included 45 buildings, five meandering blocks of cobblestone streets and alleyways and a 250-foot river with water that was recirculated so it appeared to flow.“We marked it all out on the ground with stakes and strings so we could walk through it,” notes Myhre, “then we acted out the scenes so we could design around the action.” The set was built with cedar, bamboo and clear fir. Black bamboo and sheets of cedar bark, unavailable in this country, were shipped from Japan along with fences made of woven grass and bamboo.“It was always a dream of mine to do something steeped in the Hollywood culture of lavish sets, and ironically it turned out be recreating Japan in a giant meadow near Los Angeles that looked just like the bamboo hills of Kyoto,” he says.On Geisha Myhre reteamed with director Rob Marshall, with whom he’d worked on the musical Chicago, the film that won the production designer his first Oscar. He’d previously been nominated for his design for Elizabeth with director Shekhar Kapur. After finishing up another cinema version of a Broadway musical—Dreamgirls for director Bill Condon—he’s doing another film with Kapur, Buddha, the story of the religious sage.Known for his versatility, Myhre has designed films ranging from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to X-Men. His main influence, he says, is British production designer Peter Murton, famous for films like Dr. Strangelove and Goldfinger.

Written by Jack Egan

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