Memoirs of an English speaking Chinese Geisha??
With Sino-Japanese relations at the lowest point since the end of WW2, the recently released Hollywood movie "Memoirs of a Geisha", is bound to stir things up more. The problem with this movie (leaving aside all of the "artistic liberties taken, such as English speaking, long-hair-wearing Geishas with their unpainted faces) is the casting, with the top three female roles being portrayed by Chinese actresses. Who knows what the casting director was thinking, however it is bound to put a lot of noses out of joint on both sides of the Sea of Japan (East Sea.)
Let's start with Japan, which, as usual, isn't as upset as China is. It is hard to believe that in all of Japan, there wasn't one actress qualified enough for the lead role. To give the director the benefit of the doubt though, it may have been a lack of English ability of the Japanese contenders, or maybe he just wanted a big-name star. I mean, can you name one famous Japanese actress?
One the other side however, emotions are running a little higher, which seems to be the case with anything to do with Japan recently (see my earlier piece on the coming China-Japan war. The Chinese reaction seems to be split into two camps: On one side we have the folks that are boasting that even in a movie about a strictly Japanese tradition, set in Japan, Chinese actresses were deemed far superior to Japanese actresses. Taunts along the lines of, "They are so culturally inferior to us that they had to get Chinese actresses to play their own roles." yada yada.
The other camp in the angry Chinese side is of course the nationalistic Japan haters who never let facts get in the way of a good rage. Chinese bloggers are up in arms about having a Chinese actress play a prostitute-never mind the fact that a geisha, which is written with the characters Gei, meaning "skill" and Sha, meaning person, has never been a prostitute, regardless of the uninformed western image. To become a geisha takes many years of intense training in many art forms, amoung them dancing, and the playing of such traditional instruments as the shamisen.
Critics have posted online comments recalling Japan's brutal invasion of China and denouncing Zhang as an embarrassment to China.
"She went out of her way to portray an outlet for Japanese desires. This is a loss of face for the Chinese. The Chinese were comfort women during World War II, and they continue to serve Japanese in modern times," said one recent posting on the news site of Chinese Web portal Netease.com, referring to Chinese women recruited as prostitutes during the Japanese invasion.
"Zhang Ziyi, shame of China," another anonymous posting said.
"She's sold her soul and betrayed her country. Hacking her to death would not be good enough," China's state media quoted another blogger as saying of Zhang.
All this bruhaha may being surprising to the American producers and director of the movie, after all, all Asians look alike, right? Believe it or not, all Asians don't look anything alike to each other (or to westerners who have spent any length of time is Asia), nationalities are clearly distinguishable.
Finally a movie about Asians starring mostly Asians, maybe next time they'll get the nationalities right.