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Okay, I've finally thought out a topic..
I've been thinking about going to see Memoirs of a Geisha. I'm studying Japanese, and a lot of the people on my course have either seen the film or been interested in it.
The reason I'm probably not going to see it is that I've been told it's a rather ugly Orientalist fantasy.
But it's not really alone in this.. The Last Samurai may have been popular in Japan, but let's face it, even in it's reverence, it's a stupid, patronizing film which pedals cheesy ideas of the 'exotic' and the 'eastern.' The summarizing of Bushido into 'life in every breath' was almost hilariously bad, and reminded me, unfortunately, of the Karate Kid. There were the same tired stereotypes of egoless drones and primitive warrior ethics, and of course, a repressed, easily exploited asian trophy babe for Tom Cruise.. I'm sorry, I have trouble containing my dislike of that film.
And of course it's not just films, and not just Japan. I met a guy the other day selling a book which apparently contained all the profound mystical secrets of Indian philosophy. Suffice to say, I wasn't convinced.
Why, in this modern age of mass communication and cultural hegemony, do people still return to these wierd colonial ideas about the 'mysterious and the exotic?' Why do we have to refer to them in contrast to our own 'Western' lives, as if we were somehow the centre of the universe, with everything 'different' as an amusing curiosity.
In fact, am I being paranoid and making this up? Am I ignorant myself (I accept that to a large degree) and just talking about things I don't understand?
It's all up to you..
No you aren't alone Mantis.
I remember my high school orientation days.
"Alright, just f*** off mate."
I haven't got very strong features, just the the overbite and and slightly slanted eyes. That was Tasmania as early as 4 years ago. Evidently they didn't get out much and meet Asian people. There were so few Asian restruants that you could count them on your fingers. However it's picked up since then, there are shops selling raw and packaged Asian food as well as there are now numerous Asian cuisine restaurants and take aways.
I have the same sentiments about the Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha. I recently watched an interview with a Geisha hairstyler. In the interview he said the people producing the movie had come to see him for advice, and then taken none of it.
... only triumph could turn pooing his pants into a good thing..
An interesting topic.I've got a question for you then. Why are you studying Japanese? I'm willing to bet it has something to do with how different the culture is. I think you're being a bit too cynical saying that westerners consider themselves the centre of the universe. I'm sure this is the case for some (a throw back to the old colonial days I guess) but I would say they are now in the minority. I'm interested in Japan because its so different to us. I don't consider it an ''amusing curiosity'' but as a culture to learn from and experience. I would imagine that a lot of them feel the same way, there are alot of international students after all. Remember that our culture will seem very different to them too (yes even we are exotic to some )Originally Posted by The_Giant_Mantis
I'll tell you why. ( and this is why I'm convinced I was born in the only wrong time frame)
There are no frontiers, we've discovered all about this world without doing space and underwater to death. Thats what people want, new frontiers. Its boring as hell to just sit around and live your life. A movie that brings you away from your own reality is nice. Which brings to why Asian cultrue is used.
Most westerners understand western culture, duh. Most Westerners believe they understand muslim culture, you know all muslims are evil and only want to kill Christens. So we know all about Muslims. But Asians. This is a totally different culture. Not many people even grasp how it works. SO naturally it becomes the exotic by defination. Therefore prone to use by the movies. So basically they slap an Asian facade on a bunch of western ideals and call it a movie about Asians. Se La Vive.
Three Companies of the 26th Vinancium
143rd Airborne Badgers (99.9% done)
159th Corsair Rifles (35% done))
69th Armored Wall Busters (95% done)
Total 197 men, 12 tanks, 4 Heavy Artillery Pieces
I personally have not seen the movie, but have been told by family members that have that it is pretty good. Now, we are an asian family and one of the people that saw it was my grandfather. He is someone who wouldn't like a movie like Last Samurai, but he really liked Memoirs of a Geisha. Apparently they actually did something right, go figure :rolleyes: I heard it was quite like the book and was reaaaaaaally long. Something like almost 3 hours or something like that. So be prepared to sit on your ass for a while.
I agree with most of the points being raised, but I'd also like to point out (or second if this has been said already) that movies like The Last Samurai are entertaining first and historically accurate second. This is why we get such infamous controversies as the Greek lawyers who sued the makers of Alexander over their depiction of the great conquerer. On the other hand, some people are more intelligent than you give them credit for and are perfectly capable of distinguishing what goes on in the movie from real life. I, for one, have been lucky to get very little of the asian stereotyping nonsense apart from the occasional weird look when I start talking with an American accent. So inevitably, some peoples' perceptions are going to get colored by mass media to a certain extent. It's also important to point out that mass communication/globalisation != enhanced knowledge about the world. The means are there but it's up to people to discover for themselves what other cultures are like.
As far as i understand there is a bit of trouble over the film for the decision to cast Chinese actors and actresses as Japanese characters, plus their decision to have it in english with an accent.
Personally if i want to see a film about China, Japan or Korea etc, i will watch an Asian film, those guys have a kick ass film industry, particularly the Japanese!
PLAN CLAN MAN!!
He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man- S. Johnson
I think this amazement about the more exotic parts of the world is due to how we look upon them.
When we are looking at our own civilization we are looking at it now, but when we are looking at countries like Japan we look at their history as well as their "now".
It is easier for us to see how the different "cultural-historical" trends in our own culture have come and gone, while the exotic east seems to be one everlasting culture, without such trends.
If someone has managed to keep their culture solid for such a long time (as we due to our ignorance think) they are bound to know things we do not.
But it might very well be some completely different...
Hehe.. Talking about me, eh.. Dangerous ground indeed.Originally Posted by impending slaughter
But I guess you're partially correct, I got raised on the stereotypes, and I really bought into them once. I did used to see Eastern culture as exotic, I did once believe Buddhism was a different sort of religion to Christianity.. In fact, I bought into just about everything I'm railing against in this post.
But I did have the fortune of going to Japan before starting my course, and I realised that what really did throw me, and what I hadn't been expecting, was how similar everything was. I was expecting the exotic, and I got something different. I found a place where people lived ordinary, mundane lives.
So yeah, what interests me about Japan now? Well.. I guess it's probably mostly the fact that all the 'exotic' things don't really exist, in fact, they never existed. Japanese history is as comprehensable as Western history really. So I guess I want to know what does exist instead.
It's pretty hard to remove orientalism from western culture, as it's a part of our mythos, our cultural narrative, dating back to medieaval times. One thing I find interesting is that many people who attack orientalism are more dangerous orientalists than the simpletons they accuse, if only for the fact that they are more articulate and intelligent. Instead of a "mysterious east" they buy into a post-colonial fantasy of eastern wisdom oppressed by western imperialism. To these people the old deacdent culture of the east is being exploited every day by the virile west.
Let my give an example. I recently read an article in the Australian National University student magazine written by a student of Japanese. The article was an attack on orientalism in western pop culture, where the author particularly singled out Gwen Stefani and her "harajuku girls." She claimed Stefani (and the US entertainment industry as a whole) exploited Japanese pop culture and reinforced negative steroetypes of Asian women and eastern mystery in general. She said Stefani was an orientalist, and that the music, fashion and movie industries exploited asia by "stealing their ideas." Take that, Quentin Tarantino!
I would reply with the assertion that the woman who wrote that article was herself an orientalist, of a far more subtle and dangerous nature. She felt the need to protect the poor defenceless Japanese from the big bad Americans who stomp in and steal their culture.
Her article made me really angry. ( The Japanese are PEOPLE like you and me. They have jobs. Some of them are dancers, and working for Gwen Stefani is probably a good gig. I'm sure the harajuku girls are proud of their work like any other artist. Pop culture is constantly in flux, and influences travel in ALL directions. The peculiar stylization we call anime wouldn't exist without Walt Disney, and the Japanese creators freely acknowledge the debt they owe, as do people like Quentin Tarantino when they mention the asian movies they crib for thier latest project.
Gwen Stefani is a vapid pop singer with a temporary Japan fetish. The woman who wrote that article is an orientalist. I could just imagine intellectuals like her sitting on their porches in India during the Raj with a gin and tonic saying "We really have to look out for the fellows don't you know. Some people (meaning white people) are bloody unscrupulous and might exploit the poor buggers. I treat all MY natives like equals." It makes me sick. If Japanese artists feel exploited they'll bloody well say it, they don't need white people to protect them from other white people. They aren't children.
I think attempts to counter orientalism are more damaging than the surface stereotypes most people hold. Such attempts can only spring from a deep-seated sense of superiority and paternalism, whereas the orietalism displayed by the average person comes only from inexperience. It doesn't matter. Everyone in every society has prejudices about people from groups that are strange to them.
I'd rather the average Japanese person assumed I was an unintelligent crocodile wrestling surfer, then changed their mind when they met me, than have some Japanese professor build an elaborate justificaton for why I need the Japanese to defend me against the big bad world. How can you combat that? Plus at least the stereotype is sort of flattering (kind of like being a mysterious eastern sage...)
There has to be a way to combat orientalism without being paternal, and I think the best way is with banality. Don't take it all so seriously. If you get all worked up about it and go on a crusade then you are being paternalistic, and that's the truest form of orientalism.
Awesome topic by the way (Y) Australia has many many asian citizens and neighbours, and asia is a big part of our world down here. So we see the clash of steroetype with reality every day.
Last edited by Kahoolin; January 19th, 2006 at 03:03.