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Anime News

Chinese geisha give slanted view of Japan's oldest professionals
Date: 2/4/2005
Geisha given a sneak preview of parts of the film adaptation of "Memoirs of a Geisha" have savaged the show, according to Shukan Shincho (2/10).

"Sayuri," as it appears the cinema version of the bestseller will be called in at least Japan, has been plagued with problems as initial director Steven Spielberg handed over the reigns to Rob Marshall and casting directors couldn't find Japanese actresses to play the geisha who make up the movie's main characters.

Controversially, Chinese stars Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang and Gong Li were given the plum roles playing geiko, the Kyoto version of geisha -- women who are living symbols of Japan's ancient arts and traditions.

Yeoh and Li joined Marshall and Japanese cast members Ken Watanabe, Koji Yakusho, Yuki Kudo and Suzuka Ogo to plug the movie at Tokyo's posh Imperial Hotel on Jan. 31 before about 1,000 reporters, who were also given a glimpse of "Sayuri."

"They played a few minutes of the movie on a large screen. There was fat-necked futozao shamisen plucking along in the background the whole time, sounding as though it was tsugaru jamisen (a type of shamisen from the bucolic Tohoku region). The movie tells the story of a young girl from a poor fishing village sold into an okiya to grow up and become a geiko," a movie critic who isn't identified tells Shukan Shincho. "People are worried about whether the Chinese actresses could adequately play the role of a Japanese geiko. As far as I could tell from what I saw of the movie, the director seems to be aiming at expressing his version of 'Oriental exoticism.'"

Authenticity doesn't seem to have played a prime concern in filmmakers' eyes, with the actresses playing geiko decked out in long-sleeved furisode, a type of kimono worn exclusively by young women and never by one who has reached adulthood.

Shukan Shincho says "Sayuri" appears to be more concerned with the esoteric view Marshall picked up from the novel than getting it right as far as the history and tradition involved in the movie are concerned.

"What was most shocking was the scene where Kaori Momoi's okami (teahouse mistress) whips the little girl," the pundit tells Shukan Shincho.

Geiko from Gion, the Kyoto geisha district where the major part of the movie is acted out, haven't reacted too kindly to what they've heard about "Sayuri."

"You'll never hear a fat-necked shamisen being played in Gion, nor will you see an over-the-hill geiko prancing around in furisode," a miffed geiko tells Shukan Shincho in a lilting Kyoto accent. "Even before the war is was unthinkable for an okami to whip one of her charges. This movie is a real pain for us. We've got absolutely nothing to do with that movie. It's going to create the wrong impression about what this town is really like."
Source: Mainichi Daily News