Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha - more musings

Isn't it strange how a work of art, like a movie, is able to stir up such emotions that people would be actually prepared to go to war over it ? Thinking of it, that is in fact where my country's fight for independence began: after the performance of an opera which inspired my countrymen to rebel against the then ruling king.

But going back to the "Memoirs ...", what is there to fight about ? As I explained in my previous post, the Chinese have all reason to be proud, for the outside world now also seems to acknowledge that apart from their economic feats, China is ready to also contribute in the cultural domain again. Somebody put it back on the map and for sure, China is now here to stay.

I'd rather understand the Japanese, feeling "infuriated" over the fact that their heritage is being incorporated on the big screen by Chinese, but then again we run into the question "why ?". This interesting article maybe lifts a tip of the veil:

Take the mobile telephone industry, an area in which gadget-crazy Japan is hard to beat. Yet you cannot use the vast majority of the phones or their functions overseas. The real story behind the Memoirs of a Geisha ruckus is that corporate Japan needs to think globally.

Could it be that Japan, although exporting masses of consumer goods overseas, is enclosing itself within the shores by which it is surrounded, like for centuries the Chinese were closed off from the rest of the world by the great wall? I'm not familiar enough with Japan to either confirm or refute this statement, but I have the feeling that a common Westerner will not be able to come up with many more contemporary Japanese names than maybe Koizumi. I have the feeling that Japan is all too willing to export the "hardware", but is confining the "software" to itself. Maybe they are right to not rush head-over-heels into the globalization game, for we are not sure yet whether in the end it will be sustainable (although the other options have practically been reduced to nil) . I feel more comfortable with somebody who is not patting me on the shoulder two seconds after we've met, but on another level, it doesn't make you look sympathetic if you don't and as we all know ... it's all in the perception. And I think Japan is to a certain extent paying the toll for that. So I believe they have some more introspection to do in order to come to a conclusion on where they want to go, whether they will allow their heritage occasionally to be hijacked by third parties and then remain silent about it, or switch gears and ramp up their PR army.

Looking at it from another angle, though China has currently (and has had in the past) a circle of very talented directors, it is in my opinion nowhere near yet of equalling the movie-legacy that Japan has left to the world to admire. Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Naruse, Oshima, Imamura , Kinoshita and many others have created a corpus of masterpieces that very few other countries can claim, so Japan likewise has every reason to be proud. As audiences worldwide watch these movies, it is mostly not the warhungry, cruel nation of Worldwar II it gets to see, but individuals striving for humanism in their existence, struggling with it definitely, Kafkaian at worst, but always with respect for their condition.
But recently I read an interview with Donald Richie, the old Japan-hand with more than forty titles on the country and it's culture behind his name, in which he was relating of more and more being drawn into the somewhat paradoxical position of having to explain to japanese youngsters what for instance the characters in Naruse's movies were saying and why they did what they do. After all, Richie is the foreigner but it is becoming everyday more clear to him that the new japanese generations are loosing touch with their rich cultural history, and THAT is why there will be more Gong Li's and Zhang Ziyi's playing japanese roles in the future. Japan is facing some tough choices, but so (and I would say: even more so) is China.

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