Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I've seen a few tv teasers for the blue-eyed geisha film (it's called Sayuri in Japan; they dare not use the term 'geisha' here in its relation), and it was apparent from the first frame that somehow Hollywood has once again overlooked the Japan in Japan. Below are excerpts from a discerning review at the Financial Times [link following]. For those interested in what Hollywood does with history and culture, the article is worth reading in its entirety.

"Early on in the production of the film it was decided that the traditional white-face make-up of the geisha would be offputting for American audiences. Instead we are presented with a toned-down, westernised geisha – Sayuri even has blue eyes. Geisha hairstyles are lost too, and replaced with long loose hair and styles that are more reminiscent of those seen in Chinese films also starring Zhang, Li and Yeoh.

In one of the central scenes of the film, a dance starring Zhang, any pretensions to cultural accuracy go right out of the window. It was obviously decided that geisha dances – which in reality are slow, graceful affairs – were not visually interesting enough for audiences used to seeing Zhang flying among the bamboo. So what we end up with is a mish-mash of imagery, as the filmmakers opt to mix theatrical kabuki-style dancing with Hollywood razzamatazz. Wearing a wig of long, flowing black hair reminiscent of women in Chinese ghost stories, Zhang dances dramatically while balancing on eight-inch platform shoes and holding an umbrella in a blizzard of fake snow. A spotlight shines down and koto drummers dictate the frenetic beat – the effect is much closer to Chicago than anything in the geisha world. To make matters worse, the costume designer has dressed Zhang in shoes worn by a tayu [licensed prostitute of old] for her coming-out ceremony, which will surely upset many geisha aficionados."

From Japan through Hollywood's Distorting Lens

Wonder what culture Hollywood's gonna produce next.


Kati said...

What a shame. I did enjoy the book and hoped the movie would somehow avoid the usual mc-treatment.

Maethelwine said...

I have mixed feelings about seeing this movie. On the one hand, I'd enjoy listening to the local audience snicker and cluck all the way through it, but if things turn ugly I don't want to be the only American in the theater. Maybe it's time to dust off the old "Doitsu-jin da" routine.

Robert Brady said...

"Kanada-jin-da" works for me, as my German isn't too good.

If I'd never spent any depthful time in Japan, and was 40 or 50 years younger, I'd probably enjoy this movie in some shallow exotic way. But I'd never be able to suspend my disbelief to that extent now. Pass. Wide berth.

Anonymous said...

Keep repeating to yourself, "It's only a movie. It's only a movie. . .OMG It's a SONY PICTURES movie!"

Robert Brady said...

produced by Steven Spielberg!

Anonymous said...

...therefore designed to make money, lots of money.

Robert Brady said...

Somewhere other than Asia.

Anonymous said...

You are worse than a racist Japanese nationalist; a racist foreigner in Japan!
You are basically saying that no "foreigner" can make a movie about Japan, and no non-Japanese (even highly talented Asian actresses!) can play a Japanese.
Racist! This kind of thinking in Japan ("WE Japanese' are unique etc") led to Nanjing and to all the exclusinary policies and attitudes still here.

Do you complain when a Spanish writer/director makes a movie concerning Indian history using an international caste? Italians playing Russians?

Check out Yahoo Japan reader movie reviews...3 stars out of 5, not bad. (You can read Japanese, can't you?)
Funny, the positive reviews evaluate this film as an art form;
the negative reviews start out such as; "No white, Hollywood man can write or make a movie about Japan....." Sound familiar?