If someone was to ask me my thoughts on the movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ I would respond “A foreign drama that follows the complicated life of a poor Japanese girl”. I’m sure the majority of people would agree, so take a look for yourself:
Now, most of us would be correct about the main story line, but there is one common misconception about these kinds of movies, they are not as foreign as we all think. In fact, they have become so hybrid ever so slightly that the curtain between cultures is beginning to rip. Hybridity is “mixing both global and local elements to appeal to audience tastes and trends” (Schaefer, Karan, 2006). Us as a western audience may not completely connect with a film if it only represents aspects of its own culture, so us as selfish westerners are comforted by familiarity in the form of a “Hollywood touch” to the film, whether its familiar actors and actresses or just familiar plot lines.
In the case of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, there is a thin line between a hybrid and being culturally disrespectful in my opinion. It’s essentially ‘an Eastern movie for Western audiences’ (Lagerkvist, 2009). The portrayal of Japanese culture within the film is somewhat of a positive attempt to showcase it to the Western world. But this is only the case if the natives of that culture agree, and in this movies case, they did not. Criticisms of inaccurately depicting the life of a Geisha, all the main actresses being non-Japanese, the shooting mostly taking place on a Californian sound-stage and the Japanese actors portraying secondary characters, have all questioned the hybridity and cultural validity of the film. Even as I was scrolling down the YouTube comments under the trailer, there is obvious confusion concerning whether the movie is a hybrid or culturally disrespectful. The pro hybrid comment read “Who the f*** cares if the actress is Chinese? They’re both have Asian features! At least they didn’t use a white girl” whilst the comment critisizing the film read “Its just this movie is based on Japanese culture and civilians. So casting Chinese actresses for main parts a bit weird considering they play Japanese characters in Japan, in a movie revolving around Japanese culture”.
The obvious conclusion that can be brought from this topic is that yes, there is a fine line between hybridity and being disrespectful. However it does really depend on the audience that consumes it. It is essentially ‘an Eastern movie for Western audiences’ (Lagerkvist, 2009).