Sunday, December 04, 2005

Mechakucha Geisha

I have been trying to put my finger on what exactly it is that turns me off about this Memoirs of a Geisha film that is coming out soon. Is it the fact that it was partly filmed in my hometown in southern California? No. (Interestingly enough, the film version of The Good Earth was filmed there too way back when. It does look similar to northern China if you ignore the cactus plants.)

Some people have been talking about the fact that the Chinese actresses will have Chinese-accented rather than Japanese-accented English. That doesn't bother me either, as the fact they're speaking English at all calls for our willing suspension of belief, and I am willing to extend it that much more.

The big bone of contention for many, though, is race. Japundit got all sorts of reaction to an entry on this topic. I don't think it's exactly the equivalent of having a non-Scottish person playing Macbeth as some have said--if it's really all about acting skills then let's have Samuel L. Jackson and Robert DeNiro play the geisha! (People forget there is such a thing as culture, and though it often overlaps with race, it's not identical to it.)

It doesn't bother me that much. I think I could accept Chinese actresses as geisha but... not these ones! Maybe, maybe Gong Li as Hatsumomo, but Michelle Yeoh and especially Zhang Ziyi (excuse me, it's Ziyi Zhang now that she's gone Hollywood). Where have you seen these two before? Right, mostly action flicks where they displayed pretty one-dimensional acting skills. Zhang especially seems to specialize in tough, no-nonsense characters--not what I'd be looking for in an actress playing a geisha, revenge-seeking or not.

The motivating factor seems to be their international star power. But imagine if, in an alternate universe, China was the #1 world film-industry powerhouse and they want to make a film about the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud. "We need foreigners.... Who can we get who's got star power?" "I know, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal!"

It's funny how Hollywood forgets its own lessons. Crouching Tiger was a breakout hit despite the fact that it was in Mandarin and its stars were largely unknown outside of Asia. The Passion of the Christ was huge, and that was in Aramaic! People will accept subtitles and unknowns if the film's quality is there--no need to dumb it down.

I've read the book, and the story made me think it would have made a nice Disney animated film. (Well, except for the stuff about auctioning off a character's virginity....) I have seen the trailer, and at least the cinematography looks good.


IbaDaiRon said...

(Pseudo-Aramaic actually, in the sense it was reconstructed; the branch of the language spoken during Roman times went kaput.)

I'll probably wait for this one on DVD (knowing our crap local theater, I probably won't have other option). Frankly, I found the novel only so-so. (I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw how Golden handled the Japanese names...the first page or so? But never mind!)

I like the Jackson/DeNiro idea, but would instead suggest Tom Cruise! Then they could have retitled it "The Last Geisha Guy".

amida said...

If I were still in Japan, I'd wait for the DVD too--no way would I shell out Y1500 to see this movie!

I was surprised The Last Samurai was so popular in Japan.

Anonymous said...

re your comment on japundit re geiko geisha confusion:

And Todd Benjamin on CNN Business International just pronounced geisha as GEESHA. Really. What's wrong with anchors these days?

"Geiko" means the same thing as "Geisha." We think it is true that
people in the Kansai region tend to use "geiko" more frequently
than "geisha," while Tokyoites tend to use "geisha" more.
But the both words are being used nationwide. "Gei" means "art"
and "ko" and "sha" both mean "person." So, they both literally mean
"persons with artistic talents."