McGeisha

I said I was tired of this topic and then Dirk pointed me to this scathing review. Andrew Lee gets at what I have been trying to say all along. The stereotyping and the blatant cultural inaccuracy is what bothers me more than anything else.

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 for her coming-out ceremony, which will surely upset many geisha aficionados.

In the end, all the cultures involved with this film come off badly. A Japanese cultural symbol has been thoroughly misrepresented – so much so that the film is simply titled Sayuri in Japan, shrewdly omitting the word “geisha”. Chinese actresses are taking a beating from their own countrymen, accused of treachery. And the American production is grist to the mill of those who accuse the US of insensitivity to any culture but its own.

Still wanna go see this film?

Speaking to journalists in Tokyo before the film’s premiere, Marshall said: “I think there is a misconception about what a geisha is across the world, certainly in the western world. One of the joys of this movie was to clarify what a geisha is.”

That comment encapsulates for me everything that is wrong with Hollywood.
Vote with your wallet. Do not pay to see this film in a theater. Discourage your friends from paying to see this dreck. If you must view it, find it on your local Intarweb.
FT.com / Home Asia – Japan through Hollywood’s distorting lens

9 comments on “McGeisha
  1. Isaack says:

    My concern is that they are not gonna get the point that we are trying to put across, rather they are gonna think. It’s not paying off to even try and show something different – let’s just do another Terminator.
    And then we really tired of the ninth Terminator… they are gonna fail to see the point again and blame it all on the Intar-pirates. And that’s when it gets scary, because they are gonna show nice stats to politicians how they are losing all the millions that they were supposed to use on bribing them. And that’s when things are finally happening! We are all monitored – don’t be caught as a suspected terrorist before your neighbor!
    Now, now… okay, I exagerrated a bit.

  2. Seron (Ken) says:

    Oh dear, that bad is it? I’ve already bought tickets as my wife was taken in by whatever no doubt gushing promotion it got on Japanese TV. She’s also trained to a certain degree in Japanese dance and the like, so I can imagine her cringing when we go to see it.
    For me personally, I can’t really imagine how you would do Kyoto-ben in English. Also on a slightly related point, I went to see Harry Potter last weekend, and it’s probably a sign of having been in Japan too long, but after having heard mostly tortured English from Japanese for the last few years, to hear Cho (I think that’s what the character’s name was) speaking in a native west of Scotland accent was rather strange…

  3. I saw that ridiculous dance scene in the trailer and one word entered my mind: “Flashdance”
    I really wanted to read the headline “Memoires of a Geisha Opens in Kyoto — Theater Burned to the Ground”

  4. Yayoi says:

    Not to defend the movie or anything, but the reason Sayuri has blue eyes is because that’s her eye color in the book (and one of the reasons she’s chosen to become a geisha when her sister gets sent off to prostitution).^^ The other parts of this movie sound horrifying though.-_- Thanks for the warning; now I’m definitely not going to see it, but I just wanted to clarify that little bit.

  5. Crystal says:

    I think the book described her eyes as grayish-blue.
    Gen, I am not paying to see the movie, but I was one of 25 people here in Hawai’i selected to watch a premier of it this Monday. I am expecting something very flashy and “mysterious” and just plain out of somebody’s fantasy.

  6. Dirk says:

    The strange thing is that the Japanese will probably love it. I mean, they loved Pearl Harbor, didn’t they? For most people it was a love story set in Hawaii…

  7. Chloe says:

    I think the review was quite harsh. True, the movie isn’t very accurate on some points, but it brings to popular attention a lifestyle that is slowing dying. After seeing the movie some people might be more interested, do some reserach online, and see the real way geishas live. Most people I know are dying to see the movie, and I think anything that instills that sort of support for a movie showcasing the beautiful geisha lifestyle is good, even if they did take some artistic liberty with the details.

  8. Nancy says:

    Hate to tell you that you’ll bump into blue eyed or grey eyed Asians in Hokkaido. If you travel toward the southern or eastern frontier of China, you’ll see curly haired blue eyed or green eyed Asians. I will also hate to tell you that the original Aryans, not the Aryan Nation or the Aryans the Third Reich believes in are Asians. Many members of my family have red hair and we’re all very Asian.

  9. sunshine says:

    agree with Nancy, look at this url you will fine out blue or green eye asian are exist in real. my brother in law is japanese also with green eyes.