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A little less than a happy high
I didn't like The Last Samurai either
Why am I not excited about news that a novel written by a white guy that inaccurately depicts Japanese culture is becoming a Spielberg-produced film that features mostly Chinese actors?

Oh, wait, that's right...

Read Mineko Iwasaki instead.
34 comments or Leave a comment
From: uruz Date: August 24th, 2004 07:22 am (UTC) (Link)
That's because they all look the same!

I know Asians don't look alike; your average movie-going American can't tell the difference, though.
komos From: komos Date: August 24th, 2004 07:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm by no means a hard-liner on the idea that casting must be culturally specific, and I think it's weird that it comes up mostly around movies featuring Asians. No one really gets bent out of shape when Sean Connery plays a Russian, but when Lucy Liu is cast as a Japanese woman, the rumblings start. I'm not sure what's happening there, but I don't think that hyper-awareness of race and culture is really any better than ignoring them entirely.

What gets me is that this particular casting looks like it was done solely to cash in on the actors' popularity. It's a kind of "We need Asians, so roll out the cast of CTHD and that guy from Last Samurai. Yes, it's a sound business decision. As is basing it on a stupidly popular book. As is getting a big-name producer to bankroll it. A formula based around sound business decisions, however, rarely translate into quality film.

Dunno. Maybe I'm being snobbish, or maybe my hatred of Spielberg is blinding me. I'm guessing it will make lots of money and the Academy will gush over it, and that it will be an utterly unremarkable film.
khourytamarisk From: khourytamarisk Date: August 24th, 2004 07:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Actually, the book states that it is a work of fiction based on the real life experiences of geisha in the 1930s-40s. It does not claim to be wholly accurate, nor does it say that dramatic license was not taken.

The Acknowledgement section names nearly (or over, I don't quite remember) 30 people Mr. Golden thanks for assisting him, most of whom are former geishas or historians.

For a work of fiction, it is remarkably accurate for the time period.
komos From: komos Date: August 24th, 2004 08:03 am (UTC) (Link)
He himself has acknowledged that Mineko Iwasaki was his primary resource. This begs the question - why do we need a middle-aged white guy from New England to distill the experiences of a geiko when they are available in her own hand?

He's also acknowledged taking liberties. It may be an entertaining read, but I'm no more likely to visit it as a source for real geiko culture than I am to go to The Last Samurai for tips on real Japanese sword.
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starflow From: starflow Date: August 24th, 2004 07:52 am (UTC) (Link)
ME TOO. I had that book for about a year before I read it, thinking it couldn't possibly be as good as The Hundred Secret Senses, but I was wrong.

I still haven't read Memoirs (I'm assuming that's the book Peter's talking about) because several of my friends said it was blah. Plus, I've become really picky about fiction in my old age.
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wisdom_seeker From: wisdom_seeker Date: August 24th, 2004 07:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I liked The Hundred Secret Senses, but I The Kitchen God's Wife appealed to me more. I've not read Bonesetter's Daughter, but I'm guessing from both your and Ms_N's comments that it must be good...
komos From: komos Date: August 24th, 2004 08:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Amy Tan isn't as sexy widely read. MoaG got the "work of literary genius" treatment, so it's going to get preference in the big studios.

I want to see something by Banana Yoshimoto translated to film, myself.
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From: skygoodwill Date: August 24th, 2004 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I can see through Steven Spielburg as well. I always get quite concerned for the career of the actor that he nabs into one of his movies - its usually downhill from there by way of authenticity and ennobling expression of the art. Its as though he wrecks their delivery for years and their career decision-making.

On the other matters, if one is to recreate a historical setting with many hours of manual labour and $$$ (that could go to the starving and sick on Hollywood Blvd.) you'd think they would be culturally accurate in the most basic of representation with the actor. Steven though is not an artist. He's a popularist, a commercialist and thinks of himself as a magician. Hollywood as it is now is well-suited to him and why nothing he comes up with is ever blocked. Back to the point I was making, he chooses actors a) he has worked with before b) that he WANTS to work with c) that are known to be easy to work with d) who will go 'goo-goo-gah-gah' over him. But again, he does what is popularly accepted. It would be noble to hire japanese actors, but that would take nobility. The sad thing is, if they did, it would be one of THE questions during the interview rounds: "So is it true you used all japanese actors for the japanese parts in the film? What made you do that???" (present mic)

Americans in general have little respect for other cultures on the basis that they actually exist and live and breathe and don't just live in their minds, in books, or are part of getting marks in school - that and part of their learning about restaurants and food at the grocery stores.

Most importantly, the issue about a 'white guy' writing about japanese culture... Stories come from the heart and soul. Not from genetic imprints. Said 'white guy' may have lived many many years (life-times) in the japanese culture, as part of the culture, as a builder of the culture, as a teacher of the culture, had a life as a writer in that culture - his soul may be intimately connected to japan even now - just because when he wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror and sees that he is a caucasian american should not prevent him from writing his story and it be consider authentic in some way.

komos From: komos Date: August 24th, 2004 10:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I made a point of his being a white guy because despite the fact that the voice of the novel is of a geiko speaking in the first person, there's nothing that is Japanese or womanly about that voice. The same is true for the other characters, and frankly even the story itself. Basically, the novel suffers from the same American hubris you've referenced, and it reads like it was written by a white guy who's become a self-styled expert on Japanese culture.

One of the big protests I've heard in support of The Last Samurai is that Tom Cruise got "really into" what he was doing. While I may praise him for finding something of value to pursue, it doesn't make the story any less weak, nor does it excuse the "it takes a white guy to do it right" message underlying key moments in the film.
wisdom_seeker From: wisdom_seeker Date: August 24th, 2004 10:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Off Topic

Have you gotten any emails from my aol account since I've been in town? Every time I send out an email from it, Opera shuts down. Re-opening my account, aol shows the email as sent, but I just don't trust it. So, have you gotten any? Most recent was sent this morning.
komos From: komos Date: August 24th, 2004 10:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Off Topic

tarotchan From: tarotchan Date: August 24th, 2004 01:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read that book.



*cough* Sorry ... I don't think straight when I think about that book.
komos From: komos Date: August 24th, 2004 01:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
34 comments or Leave a comment