December 4, 2005
Written by C.N.
I’ve recently written about a tangible rise in tensions between China and Japan in recent years. As a Reuters article reports, adding new fuel to the fire is the upcoming release of the Hollywood blockbuster movie Memoirs of a Geisha. Based on the bestselling novel of a several years ago, the movie version stars Chinese superstar actress Ziyi Zhang in the lead role. In fact, while the story is set in Japan’s history, the movie features a predominantly Chinese cast. Inevitably, this has riled many Japanese:
The cast adds up to Asia’s A-list, with China’s Ziyi Zhang starring as Sayuri, a poor fisherman’s daughter who transforms herself into a legend of Kyoto’s mysterious entertainment world in the 1930s. The two other leading roles are played by Gong Li, also of China, and ethnic Chinese Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, with Japanese performers relegated to secondary roles.
“Memoirs,” reported to have cost its makers $85 million, can ill afford to alienate moviegoers in Japan, the second biggest market for Hollywood films. But a day ahead of the world premiere, some in Japan were wondering why homegrown talent was shut out of the leading roles in a film that celebrates Japan’s unique culture. . . .
But some have already expressed anger at what they see as a cavalier attitude to the subtleties of traditional costume and dance in a movie largely shot on a specially built set in California. “According to this film, ‘geisha’ dance in a bizarre fashion, as if they were in a Los Angeles strip show,” one Japanese film fan complained on a Web log, or blog, adding that the lights and special effects were more reminiscent of modern Las Vegas than old Kyoto.
We haven’t even gotten into how this movie will reflect on Asian Americans in general — whether or not it only reinforces stereotypes of Asian women as exotic and submissive and Asian men as evil and conniving. On top of that, it has the potential to stoke already high tensions between two of the world’s most powerful nations, China and Japan.
If the filmmakers wanted to open a big ‘ol can of worms and possibly piss a whole lot of people off, they’ve certainly succeeded with this film. I can’t wait to actually see it.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Geisha Memoirs Provoke New China-Japan Rift" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/12/geisha-memoirs-provoke-new-china-japan-rift/> ().
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