I know I’m not alone in saying Memoirs of a Geisha annoyed the living daylights out of me. It was humorless, overwritten, fly-blown Hollywood schmaltz — half tinselly soap opera and half bogus exoticism, right down to the oh-so-sad shakuhachi flutes on the soundtrack. Talented people were involved both in front of and behind the camera, but starpower only goes so far, and Geisha’s stunt Asian casting only showed up the project all the more for being empty chintz. What did it say that none of the major female roles are played by actual Japanese, while just about all the major male roles are? That Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang and Li Gong outsell any Japanese actress you could name? Or that Hollywood still thinks actors (especially women) can still be generically and interchangeably “Asian” — which may not have been their intention, but sure feels like the end result?*
I fulminate about all this now because Sakuran is the anti-Geisha — a movie as brazen, hilarious, rollicking, on-target and emotionally honest as that other movie was incapable of being. It’s far from being forensically accurate — I seriously doubt Yoshiwara red-light houses had paper doors designed like stained-glass windows — but it’s spot-on in all the ways that matter. The best part of all is that it’s fun, in the sense that we’re seeing talented people sink their teeth into the material and play it up like they’re all getting away with something. Read more
Maybe it’s just the way it seems in the media, but does Japan has more subcultures per square inch than it does actual populace? Kamikaze Girls looks at two of the least-similar subcultures you could imagine and finds they have more in common than you might think — that most of the people who swear allegiance to such things are simply looking to belong to something that’s a little brighter, a little noisier, a little more fun than everyday life. And like the very things it looks at, Kamikaze Girls is itself bright, noisy, and a lot of fun; it had me laughing more often than nearly anything else I’ve seen recently that billed itself as a comedy.
The two cultures in Kamikaze Girls are a) the “Lolita Girls”, female teenagers who dress like Little Bo Peep, and b) the bousozoku, or biker gangs. These are far from being the only two in Japan worth mentioning, though. Between the otaku — the near-antisocial fans of anime and manga and all the cultural products thereof — and those genuinely weird girls who dress up in bandages and fake bruises, you could lose count. Momoko (Kyoko Fukada, the pop star in Kitano’s Dolls and Himiko in Onmyoji II), the Lolita Girl, daydreams about rococo-ea France and uses her cutesy style to escape from the wretchedness of her surroundings.Read more