Saturday, March 18, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha

Last week I went to see the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha", to see what the buzz and fuzz in China and Japan was all about, apart from the fact that the life in Yoshiwara has always been a topic of interest to me. The mix of raw erotics with a high level of refinement and an art scene going from Kabuki performances to the magnificent ukiyo-e prints, is something I couldn't locate in any other country. So throw the word geisha at me and you're sure to have my attention :-)

But this movie has gone far beyond the borders of pure entertainment, due to the fact that it's an American movie with Chinese actresses (Gong Li & Zhang Ziyi) playing the roles of Japanese geisha's. Nowadays, put those two countries together in one sentence and one is bound to bump into an avalanche of links on the Rape of Nanjing, ramblings on Yasukuni shrine etc...

I found this to be an interesting article that pertains to the subject, as the anti-japanese sentiments in China seem to have given rise to a class of youths that get denominated as "fenqing". I will not elaborate on what I consider to be historic stupidity, but I find it so sad that at the time when China can start to harvest the fruit of it's rising international status, a bunch (well, it's more than just that ...) of hotheaded youths is spoiling the party.

Because what are the facts: Hollywood, the Mekka of the film-producing industry (whether one likes that or not), is engaging two of China's hottest actresses to perform the roles of Japanese women. Why would Hollywood not choose Japanese actresses to play those roles ? In my opinion simply because there are none at this moment that can compare to Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi in international acclaim and why is that? Blame it on the "Fifth Generation" of Chinese directors, the Chen Kaige's, the Zhang Yimou's and the Tian Zhuangzhuangs of this world, that in just one decade have managed to pull the Chinese movie-industry from the swamp where it was slowly dying onto centerstage worldwide. No ambassador China has ever had, would be able to do what these guys have done for the image of China outside it's borders. In the wake of their movies, Gong Li has risen to well-earned stardom and paved the way for others to follow her steps. That is why they are chosen for this movie on a particular part of Japanese society and by taking on the roles, they are making a powerful statement that acting is what has brought them where they are, not politics.

The funny, or rather sad, thing about this all is that the Fifth Generation sweep, as I would like to call it, is for a great deal rooted in the "zhiqing" experience of many of those directors. No other movie will make this point so clear as Kaige's "King of the Children" (Haizi Wang). They are part of what was to be a lost generation of urban youth sent down to the countryside to learn from the masses during China's Cultural Revolution. It's proven to be a most painful experience for most parties, and their way back to "civilised" society was mostly filled with more hardship. But then there is this group in the eighties, emerging from the swamp and chaos of the past period like a waterlily grows from the muddy ground in a dirty pond, basically telling what they had seen and experienced in their "zhiqing"days, but doing it with such a technical mastering that it didn't take long before they had the worlds attention. They've seen some bad things in their time, but they've moulded it into something dignified.

So what about these "fenqing"? Compared to their parents, they have all they can ever dream of, they haven't had to live through the atrocities of the war, there is no Japanese that has ever harmed them personally, so what's the point ??!! Oh, I know, history is transferred through several generations and you can't wipe out the pain and wounds of the victims in one generation. So the rage at what happened in the past being still there is something I can still understand to a certain extent, the uncontrolled and fairly ridiculous outing of these sentiments is however unworthy of a China only just knocking at the door of the international community. There have been people in the past who have shown how to do it in another way, so the only reaction befitting to the actresses who star in "Memoirs of a geisha" would be one of respect for them and those who initially got them in front of a Chinese camera. All the rest, the hatred and the dirt-throwing, is just a sickening mockery of what could be a great country.

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