DEBITO.ORG
Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle's Home Page

New ebooks by ARUDOU Debito

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • End-year Irony #2: Japanese cast as Roman in “Thermae Romae” despite J complaints about Chinese cast as Japanese in “Memoirs of a Geisha”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 31st, 2011

    IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

    New novel IN APPROPRIATE by ARUDOU Debito

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
    UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
    DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free

    Hi Blog.  Here’s another bit of irony from Japanland.  It’s quite petty, so I kept it as a year-end frivolous tangent:

    Japanese movies can cast Japanese as NJ, but NJ movies apparently cannot cast NJ as Japanese.  Works like this, according to Debito.org Reader JDG:

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    December 1, 2011
    Hello Debito, Hope you are well.
    Saw this on Japan Probe:
    http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/11/29/thermae-romae-live-action-movie/#disqus_thread

    in THERMAE ROMAE, and thought that it was a bit rich to cast a Japanese guy as an Italian, considering the outcry in Japan when a Chinese actress starred in the film adaptation of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, the showing of which was even banned by some theaters in Japan on that basis!

    http://www.japanprobe.com/2007/03/05/actors-pretending-to-be-japanese/
    http://www.japanprobe.com/2006/07/12/ziyi-zhang-lashes-out-at-japan-for-censoring-memoirs-of-a-geisha-what-2/

    It’s a double standard, and the apologists are all over it already. The very fact that the producers can’t find a European looking, Japanese speaking actor for the part (who is well known enough in Japan to pull in a crowd), is a direct result of Japan’s insularity.

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    COMMENT:  To head those apologists off at the pass:  There is indeed a long history in Hollywood to cast Asians fungibly — Chinese cast as Japanese in WWII propagandistic movies, some quite odd ethnic Japanese cast as “real” Japanese or even other Orientals (e.g., Mako, Gedde Watanabe), etc., etc., and that’s before we get to the outright racial stereotyping done in period-piece embarrassments such as Mickey Rooney’s Mr Yunioshi in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. Doesn’t take much to dig up the same phenomenon anywhere in world cinema.

    But this is becoming unforgivable in this time of greater globalization, migration, immigration, and general ability to research, travel, and understand different people. People in the media should be trying harder. And they certainly are not in the THERMAE example. Nor were they in SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (2010) — the live-adaptation of the manga and anime starring Kimura Takuya, in which the whole human galaxy is exclusively Japanese! (according to the IMDB full cast list)  Even the STAR TREK crew casting did a bit better than that way back in the mid-1960’s!  (Incidentally, I love how again-fungible-Asian Mr. Sulu is translated into “Mr. Katou” for the Japanese audience… But I digress.  Then again, at least the cast is diverse enough to allow for that.)

    I’m no doubt opening a can of worms (I can hardly wait until someone brings up the deliberate cultural insensitivities of BORAT…), but let’s end the year on a relatively frivolous note, since 2011 was probably the worst year on record for Japan and its residents in my lifetime. More on that in my upcoming Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column, out on Tuesday, January 3, 2012.

    Have a happy remainder of the year, everyone, and thanks for reading Debito.org! Arudou Debito

    33 Responses to “End-year Irony #2: Japanese cast as Roman in “Thermae Romae” despite J complaints about Chinese cast as Japanese in “Memoirs of a Geisha””

    1. Andrew in Saitama Says:

      I’ve noticed over the years an attitude that Japanese can pass themselves off as any nationality but no other nationality could possibly be mistaken for a Japanese. (Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice?)
      I still hear how Japanese “look” different from Chinese and Koreans (when the “look” is based around choice of wardrobe or language they speak)
      Which then leads to the whole “haafu-ism”, which is based on appearance – we don’t have any “haafu” TV stars with a Chinese or Korean parent, do we?

      Furthermore, look how the J media play up the J actor’s roles in the big Chinese epics – or indeed, any film from overseas.

    2. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Andrew In Saitama

      They didn’t make a big fuss about Hideo Nakaizumi’s central role in ‘Nanking! Nanking!; City of Life and Death’ (2009), which won eight international awards…..I wonder why?

    3. fly Says:

      By the end of the clip, when it clearly becomes a cheesy comedy and not to be taken seriously, the old guy at the end of the trailer says “gaijin san” to the Japanese actor in the bath.

      Yeah right. Well, maybe after the ubiquitous cosmetic eye surgery (something Debito has not touched on but its far more common in Japan to achieve a pseudo Caucasian, non-Asian look than we are allowed to know-instead, it is projected onto Koreans in popular denial).

      I showed this clip to the wife and she said something apt “Oh, its just THEIR (ie. Japan`s) idea of Rome; this doesn`t matter” and she promptly goes off to do something more important.

      So who cares? Hollywood will keep on casting Chinese; its a bigger market after all….

    4. Scott T. Hards Says:

      This story might be “ironic” if it was the same Japanese person or group involved in both films. But it’s not. The writer seems to think that there’s some unified opinion or values coming out of something called “Japanland” and that having these two different views in a similar situation is therefore ironic or hypocritical. This suggests a very simplistic view of Japan and her people. This is about as deep as pointing out something like the “irony” that a group was pushing for abortion rights in the US even though another group was pro-life.

    5. alex Says:

      Well I don’t think this is a phenomenon that is limited to Japan or any other country – there are countless films made in western countries which are not true to the history or culture they represent eg. Gladiator, Girl With the Pearl Earring, etc. etc.

      This instantly reminded me of a story I read a while ago (possibly on this website) of a Japanese actress who had lived in Paris and wanted for the Japanese restaurants to have certification to prove their authenticity, due to the number of disappointing restaurants serving very poor quality Japanese food – which she attributed to them being owned by Vietnamese, Chinese or other ethnicities. That story stuck in my head as I remember when I lived in Japan eating food in French/Italian restaurants that was very different to the food I’d eaten in those countries.

      However, the best fish & chips I’ve ever had was not in my native Britain but in Shinjuku, so there we go!

      Happy new year all!

      – Quite possibly. The GOJ threw their hand in certifying authenticity of Japanese food with the Sushi Police back in 2006! Then again, it’s much easier for somebody to learn how to be a good Asian cook than to be a good Asian-looking person for a movie part, so the comparison has its shortcomings…

    6. Meat67 Says:

      When I saw the preview for Memoirs of a Geisha I was totally confused. I thought, this is a story about a Chinese geisha in Japan? I later found out that no, it’s just that the producers and/or director didn’t think that the average person could tell the actresses had obviously thick Chinese accents when speaking English. I found it so distracting in the preview that I refused to see the movie.

      I have no problem with a Chinese or Korean person playing a Japanese person (or vice-verse) if they actually have the proper accent, just like I don’t care when Hugh Lorie (House MD) plays an American or more pertinently James Kyson Lee and Masi Oka play Japanese (Heroes) because they actually sound the part.

      Just to deliberately derail the thread, I’ve always had problems with Sci-Fi books and movies where 90% of the people were “Americans/Europeans”. I’ve always figured in the future, if the Earth was represented properly, a starship crew would be like 20% Chinese and 15% Indian genetically (according to Wikipedia I was close and the figures would be more like 19% and 17% respectively).

      To further trivialize, what the hell is up with Yul Brynner? When I first read the post I thought of him playing some Chinese guy. Checking Wikipedia again I think I might have mis-remembered his portrayal of the king of Siam as having something to do with China. Just a quick check of some of his movies shows he’s also been a Mayan prince and an Egyptian pharaoh. Does anyone else want to see what other ethnicities he’s been passed off as?

      Oh, and yes, happy new year!

    7. Npritt Says:

      Hmm, no, it is not a double standard. Memoirs of a Geisha isn’t made by the Chinese, if they go as far as to search for particular Asian actors/actresses, why not search for Japanese? On this basis the casting seems to anger the Japanese. Thermae Romae is made in Japan, so Japanese cast is of course not a problem, nor is it a double standard. It’s going to be double standard if the following occurs: they use American/any non-Italian NJ as the roman guy.

    8. Jiong Says:

      Where is the Shinjuku fish and chips?

    9. Charuzu Says:

      I see few problems with Hollywood casting East Asians fungibly. [What a lovely word -- fungibly]

      Hollywood casts Europeans fungibly, with English playing Russians, etc.

      And, indeed, Koreans and Japanese do share genetic roots that are not too distant.

      I see the focus of only Japanese actors being cast as Japanese roles as a feature of the malady of Japanese uniqueness.

    10. Jim Di Griz Says:

      The point I was trying to make is that so far, the Japanese are the only people (that I am aware of) who have protested on the streets, and forced cancellations of showings because of an NJ actor/actress playing a Japanese.

      @Meat67
      ‘I have no problem with a Chinese or Korean person playing a Japanese person ‘, of course you don’t, it’s the Japanese that came over all offended and misunderstood.

      ‘what the hell is up with Yul Brynner?’. Don’t even go there. Yul Brynner was one of the coolest men who ever lived.

    11. Baudrillard Says:

      Confucius: “Fiction is mendacity”

      I see no contradiction in those Japanese who want to have an authentic (Japanese) copy of a fictional character, ironically created by a gaijin (Arthur Golden) in the NJ simulation of Japan!

      Their obsession with a “correct” simulation and the spectacle of images is how postmodern Japan trumps Confucian Japan.

    12. debito Says:

      For the record:
      Tokyo premiere of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ nets mixed reaction, criticism
      Last Updated: Tuesday, November 29, 2005 | 2:47 PM ET CBC News
      http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2005/11/29/geisha-premiere-051129.html
      Courtesy of the Wikipedia Entry on Arthur Golden

      The film adaptation of Arthur Golden’s best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha met with a mixed reaction at its world premiere in Tokyo Tuesday, amid concerns about its portrayal of Japanese culture.

      Despite much anticipation for the film – set for a staggered North American release beginning Dec. 9 – the project has drawn criticism from different camps in the two Asian countries.

      In Japan, critics have questioned whether a Hollywood movie can accurately depict the nuanced culture of geishas – the women trained from childhood in music, dance and conversation so as to be elegant companions to wealthy men. In the past, other cultures have portrayed geishas as simply glorified prostitutes. Before filming, the film’s actresses submitted to a sort of “geisha bootcamp” for six weeks to quickly pick-up skills that took real geishas a lifetime to acquire.

      Others have disparaged the filmmakers for shooting most of the movie on California soundstages and criticized the casting of non-Japanese actors for Geisha’s three female leads: China’s Zhang Ziyi stars in the title role, while compatriot Gong Li and Chinese-Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh star as her rival and mentor, respectively.

      Japan’s Ken Watanabe stars in the lead male role as Zhang’s love interest, while other Japanese actors portray secondary characters.

      In China, on the other hand, the lead actresses have drawn disapproval from those who still resent Japan’s occupation of Chinese regions before and during the Second World War.

      Director Rob Marshall, whose last film project was the Oscar-winning musical Chicago, has often defended the cast during recent media events in advance of the premiere.

      “I have a very simple philosophy about casting, and that is: cast the best person for the role,” Marshall told reporters Tuesday. “The demands were enormous and Ziyi was the best.”

      At a press conference Monday, Zhang herself stressed that the film’s largely-Asian cast is a major milestone for a Hollywood film and an amazing opportunity to showcase the dramatic skills of Asian actors to a worldwide audience.

      The lavish, joint U.S.-Japan production, which was at one point to be directed by Steven Spielberg, tells the story of a poor fisherman’s daughter sold into life as a geisha. She rises to become one of the most celebrated geishas in 1920s Kyoto.

      “Today’s young people have very little connection with the world of geisha,” a Japanese journalist told Reuters after seeing a preview Monday. “Perhaps they will be able to see it in the same way as foreigners do, as something exotic.”

      Arthur Golden’s 1997 novel spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list and sold millions of copies, despite a lawsuit by the woman who inspired the book. In the book, the U.S. author mentions the assistance of former geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who later received death threats and criticism for breaking the code of silence about her community. Iwasaki sued Golden for breaking their alleged agreement to maintain her anonymity but they later reached a settlement out of court.
      ENDS

    13. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Charuzu

      You were asking why Japanese don’t stick their necks out? See the above;

      ‘former geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who later received death threats and criticism for breaking the code of silence about her community.’

    14. jim Says:

      i don’t think that she ever received any death threats at all, i think that it was more of a matter of her wanting to get paid after she found out that he had a bestseller on his hands.

    15. Anon Says:

      About Mineko Iwasaki being threatened by Japanese for breaking the code of silence:

      Arinori Mori, Japan’s first Minister of Education was killed for breaking the code.
      Mori publicly admitted an “embarrassing truth” about Japan’s Royal Family:
      he found that on the back of Japan’s most sacred treasure “Yata-no-Kagami”
      (which Japan’s first emperor “Jinmu” received from his G-G-G-Grandmother,
      and is the Imperial Regalia of Japan required to legitimize each Emperor,
      “Northern Emperors” who lacked possession of this are not even recognized)
      is clearly written in ancient Hebrew script “יהוה אור” (Yahweh is the Light.)
      This means the first progenitor of Japan’s Royal Family carried Jewish DNA. Doh!
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Regalia_of_Japan
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mori_Arinori
      http://i.imgur.com/Gk4M7.jpg

      “During the Meiji Era the Minister of Education, Arinori Mori, who was familiar with five different foreign languages including Hebrew, declared that the characters engraved on the back of the sacred mirror ‘Yata-no-Kagami’ at the Ise Grand Shrine are of Hebrew origin. He was killed for these blasphemous words by the nephew of the Shrine’s chief priest.”

      The nephew claimed his reason for killing Mori was “because he didn’t take off his shoes, and he used his walking stick to push back the sacred veil on his way to looking at the Yata-no-Kagami” but the more important reason is the embarrassing fact that Mori broke the code of silence about the Hebrew engraving he saw on the back.

      In Japan, even a high-ranking Japanese official like Arinori Mori, can be killed for admitting an embarrassing truth.

      This is why people raised in Japanese society are afraid to admit embarrassing truths:
      they are unconsciously afraid of being put in the scary exclusionary zone of “村八分”.
      So if you do something the group doesn’t approve of, i.e. telling embarrassing truths,
      the group will shun you from 8 major situations: you basically must leave the village.
      What’s worse, you and all your descendants might be marked as “hinin” into perpetuity.
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%9D%91%E5%85%AB%E5%88%86

      Note that no Japanese person has even dared to translate this embarrassing Murahachibu
      word into the English Wikipedia version. Well, here’s a real honest English definition:
      http://junana.com/CDP/corpus/GLOSSARY5.html

      村八分 = the real roots of the dishonesty prevalent in Japan which Debito keeps honestly pointing out.

      – Thanks, but we’re digressing.

    16. solace Says:

      The hypocrisy is not that (some) Japanese people complain and boycott NJ portrayals of Japanese while (some, presumably other) Japanese people use J actors as, in this example, citizens of ancient Rome.

      The hypocrisy, the double standard, is that (some) Japanese protest and even force cancellation of showings of foreign films depicting Japanese culture, while remaining silent and having no complaints about Japanese films depicting foreign cultures.

      However, denouncing such things as hypocritical is itself somewhat missing the point: to them there is no hypocrisy because of an underlying worldview that justifies such distinctions, namely that of cultural and/or racial superiority. “When we do such things it’s just good fun – it’s entertainment! – but our unique and special culture is sacred, incomprehensible to and unportrayable by those lacking Yamato heritage.” Few would state it so clearly, but it clearly informs the opinions of many. It is one of the pillars of provincialism that props up the status quo and frustrates attempts at change, criticism or comparison.

      Of course, this Japanese exceptionalism is itself not exceptional. Japan is no more unique in this regard than in any other. The particular brand of it in Japan, though, seems particularly insidious due to the lack of the commitment to or mindfulness of human rights that (in the best of cases) serves as a counterbalance in other cultures.

    17. Kimpatsu Says:

      @Meat67:
      Masi Oka IS Japanese. He was born in Tokyo, and emigrated with his mother to NYC aged 6. He coached James Kyson Lee for their roles in Heroes.

    18. Loverilakkuma Says:

      There seems to be some sort of ideological mindsets held among many reviewers and movie critics when it comes to NJ actors/actresses acting as Japanese– I mean, those who are qualified for the role and those who are not. In Hollywood films featuring Japan or Japanese culture, Asian-Americans are usually casted as Japanese. (See for example, Pat Morita for Kensuke Miyagi; Yuji Don Okumoto for Chozen in “Karate Kid 2″; Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa for a Japanese Yakuza boss Yoshida; Brandon Lee for the detective Jonny Murata in “Showdown in Little Tokyo”). Regarding these films, I’ve never heard any hue and cry over the castings–I don’t know any, but maybe I’m wrong–, while the ways these Hollywood films portray actors/actresses of color often become the talk of controversy in terms of race/ethnicity. When a famous ‘60s Japanese animation “Speed Racer” was out in May 2008, I had the feeling that the film could spark controversy over the portrait of characters (Speed played by Emile Hirsch, Trixie by Christina Ricci). And few of us have difficulty in seeing that the film, the originally produced as Japanese anime, was Americanized in the context—a typical happy ending story about a white guy and girl. Originally, they are characterized as Japanese, but in the film they are portrayed as Americans. Contrary to my hunch, it turned out that many critics focused more on Hiroyuki Sanada than the way the film was plotted.

      It’s odd to me that Japanese film critics today seem to turn away from the problems with many Hollywood films for overtly depicting Asian-Americans as a model minority—i.e., language privilege and ability to behave/speak in a certain way, or white-nizing the Japanese characters in a western context. Are we Japanese still being obsessed with the power of whiteness discourse that gives them an exclusive privilege to politicize any segment of their public culture for the promotion of racial superiority over any ethnicity– except for one?

    19. Anon Says:

      How many years must a Japanese person live in America, before he is called a Japanese-American?

      And how many years must an American live in Japan, before he is called an American-Japanese?

      “The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.” (Ha-Ha)

      But seriously… is it when he has lived more years in the new country than in the old country?

    20. Meat67 Says:

      @Kimpatsu:
      D’oh! I thought his parents were Japanese and he was American.

    21. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Anon #19
      If you have Japanese parents, you can live abroad your whole life, you will still be regarded as ‘proper’ Japanese by other ethnic Japanese.
      If you don’t have two Japanese parents, it doesn’t matter where you were born, how long you lived in Japan, what visa status you have, you will always be regarded by ethnic Japanese as not being ‘proper’ Japanese.
      This is because the Japanese have an outdated and racist attitude to nationality based on blood descent, rather than the application of modern laws.

    22. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Loverilakkuma

      ‘Asian-Americans are usually casted as Japanese. (See for example, Pat Morita for Kensuke Miyagi; Yuji Don Okumoto for Chozen in “Karate Kid 2″; Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa for a Japanese Yakuza boss Yoshida; Brandon Lee for the detective Jonny Murata in “Showdown in Little Tokyo”).’

      With all due respect, are you saying that Hollywood was dropping the ball by casting three Japanese-Americans for Japanese roles? Where’s the problem with that? They are ethnically Japanese, are they not? Brandon Lee appears to be the incongruous one (N.B. one, 1, 一人).

      Hollywood has made the effort to at least cast asians in asian roles, why can’t they find one white actor in the whole of Japan to be a Roman? Hell, even Damon Carver could have passed as a Roman citizen!

    23. masada Says:

      @Jim Di Griz
      Just to correct you, even if both of your parents are Japanese and you happen to be born overseas, unless your parents take explicit action and take the “proper” procedure to “retain” (“留保”) your Japanese citizenship, you WILL automatically lose your Japanese citizenship.

      This entails returning home to Japan to register your child’s birth with the authorities within 90 days (or doing so by proxy) among other things. This applies for cases where either both or one of the parents are Japanese, and it is really surprising how often parents neglect to do this and their children lose their claim to Japanese citizenship as a result. IMHO I think this system is ridiculous as a 90 day limit is unreasonably short, and in practice, many single/unmarried NJ parents cannot afford or are ineligible to visit Japan to register their children (which is a painfully common issue with JFCs or Japanese Filipino Children born into broken families for example).

      But I digress. Although I agree with your opinion that Japanese conceptions of nationality being based solely on “Jus sanguinis” is indeed outdated, I just wanted to point out that there are cases where “fully Japanese” (whatever that means) children born overseas are denied Japanese citizenship. Obviously this won’t apply for Mr. Oka, however.

    24. Fly Says:

      Maybe all the white actors have left; there isnt much work in any case to stick around for. Plus as we Japanese know, foreigners are hard to work with on the set (sarcasm mine).And they want paying.

      Its truly weird; I remember some J-TV drama in which the hero wanted to convince his parents to let him marry an Indian woman…who was played by a Japanese!! Oh well, in that case I suppose its OK, then, permission granted! (irony mine)
      Used to get called up regularly just coz some TV agency had got hold of the company number and knew foreigners worked there, but no pay as they said “just for fun or promotion” (of what?). Or for 10 000 yen after negotiation, as well as 3 days of rehearsals and writing our own scripts in Japanese (which were vetted and censored).

      Finally, disagree with #21. Returnee Japanese have always had it tough and are not regarded as “proper Japanese” by employers etc.
      Many sources for this but eg. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01434632.1995.9994597#preview

    25. Loverilakkuma Says:

      @ Jim Di Griz, 22

      >With all due respect, are you saying that Hollywood was dropping the ball by casting three Japanese-Americans for Japanese roles? Where’s the problem with that? They are ethnically Japanese, are they not? Brandon Lee appears to be the incongruous one (N.B. one, 1, 一人).

      No, I don’t think the Hollywood films are making such a bombastic message—at least, on the surface. Rather, I’m referring to the way the films serve as the medium of subaltern culture by framing Japanese or Asian characters as the minorities of a specific privilege. I understand your question. The way the western mainstream media create the perception of ethnic minorities is very subtle, so it’s quite hard to see the problem at first look.

      What’s common with the two of the three actors—Okumoto and Tagawa– is that they are casted as a villain and skillful in martial arts. They are portrayed as those who seek an utmost power to gain the privilege for sexuality and socio-economic status in a specified cultural context—i.e., local Okinawan community,
      underground–to their no avail. Okumoto is a 3rd generation Japanese-American, born and raised in L.A. In “Karate Kid 2,” Chozen looks more like an expat—rather than a sojourner who has a brief exposure to an American culture, although I’m not so sure if this is film director’s intention. NOTE: Okumoto spends almost all of his life in the US, appearing in several episodes of “Walker Texas Rangers.” He looks like a Japanese actor Masanori Takashima Tagawa is a Japanese-American, born and raised in Tokyo, currently residing in Hawaii. I don’t know how Japanese people perceive Okumoto and Tagawa in the media, but there’s no argument on their performance. Both fit really well in each respective film.

      Moving on to my point, what sometimes makes me baffled is the way Asian characters are fixed and reprimanded for their (‘irrational’ or ‘problematic’) behavior based on white standard. The footage of “Showdown in Little Tokyo,” depicts the role of co-detective Jonny Murata (Brandon Lee) as a subordinate to whiteness through his supporting role for the main character— a L.A. chief detective Kenner (Dolph Langren). There is a scene in which Murata, a Japanese American, is chastised by Kenner for his ignorance of his cultural origin, while the storyline gives Kenner more privilege
      in accessing Japanese cultural heritage and spirit through martial arts. Indeed, Murata takes his hat off to Kenner’s ability to embrace Japanese-ness by saying, “Go get him, Samurai!” on their way to hunt Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa).

      In general, I don’t see a serious problem with these actors. But, the way some films create the hetero-normative assumption on race and sexuality in a trans-national/cultural context is worth being notified as a concern. The reason: the hegemonic power of mainstream media to create skewed perception on racial minorities and culture of others. (See, for example, Dana L. Cloud. “Hegemony or Concordance? The Rhetoric of Tokenism in Oprah Winfrey’s Rags-to-Riches Biography.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 13(1996): 115-137.)

      I personally don’t think that should always be considered as secondary because the posting above suggests that such framing is already applied to Japanese films– in even more overt way–to skew the racial/cultural awareness of “us” and “others” in a Japanese society.

    26. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Loverilakkuma,

      You have an issue with the way screen-plays are written in the west regarding stereotyping of asian norms? Maybe I can agree with you on that.

      But, that was not the point I was trying to make. I am simply saying that in the case of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ the Japanese came across as the injured party, and got angry about the casting of NJ as Japanese characters, however, in ‘Thermae Romae’ a Japanese is cast as a white European with no sense of irony or hypocrisy (the inferred message being that it’s because NJ don’t matter).

      It is exactly the same attitude that causes Japanese comedians to do ‘black-face’ in order to portray black characters.

      http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/02/02/tiger-woods-blackface-act-on-japanese-tv/
      http://www.japanprobe.com/2008/02/06/barack-obama-visits-japan-blackface-comedy/

      But woe betide the NJ who has a laugh at the Japanese!
      http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/01/22/bbc-apologizes-for-a-bomb-jokes/

    27. Kaoru Says:

      As has been mentioned, western actors play characters from other countries all the time. Most of the cast of the new Batman movies aren’t American. The real issue as far as I was concerned with Memoirs of a Geisha was not the ethnicity of the actresses, but their understanding of the way Japanese (especially of that period and class) compose themselves, move, speak, emote etc. It was acted with all the cultural sensitivity of a pre-school nativity play.

      However, this is largely moot with regards to the double standard. Those that made the most noise about the ethnicity angle of the casting of Memoirs are not necessarily representative of Japan as a whole, and almost certainly weren’t involved in the production of Thermae Romae. Japan isn’t a homogeneous whole, despite what they’d like us to think (See what I did there?).

    28. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Kaoru

      ‘understanding of the way Japanese (especially of that period and class) compose themselves, move, speak, emote etc. It was acted with all the cultural sensitivity of a pre-school nativity play.’

      You are talking about the actions of fictional characters in a work of fiction written by an NJ. Don’t buy into the lie that ‘Japan is so special only ‘we Japanese’ can understand it properly’. That’s exactly the kind of bad social science that nihonjinron giron (and imperialistic ideology) depends on.

    29. Loverilakkuma Says:

      I agree with Jim Di Griz. If the action of fictional characters possessing Japanese persona is the reason for controversy over racial/cultural insensitivity, “Memoirs of a Geisha” is definitely not the odd one out. Besides, the film also invited a heavy criticism from Chinese for Chinese actresses’ roles that implicates the meaning of prostitute at the time of war–regardless of fictionalized characters.
      If you say NJs are not capable of performing Japanese characters of particular period and class — due to their inability to understand characters, behavior, movement, and speech at that time, I have to say Yuji Okumoto in “Karate Kid, part II,” Lucy Liu in “Kill Bill vol.1,” or any Asian-American actors casted for Japanese characters in “Tokyo Drift” would automatically be disqualified. Really!?

      If you follow this dubious pseudo-scientific “nihonjinron” argument, then how would you see the acting of Tom Cruise in “Last Samurai”—regarding his character which transgresses from a white soldier to an about-to-extinct endemic tribe by assimilating into local culture—and eventually falling in love with Japanese widow? Could the folks give as much applaud to other NJ actors as him for the ability to perform like ‘real’ Japanese in any film relating Japan or Japanese culture?

      Regarding “Thermae Romae,” I just can’t give any comments because I became speechless with its stupid trailer. I thought it was a parody. Are they trying to some kind of muppet stunt??

      And the actors are not gonna speak English in the film because it’s Japanese audience only?? Typical cultural consumption for closed communities.

    30. Flyjin Says:

      Agree with Jim, and quite often in my 25 years experience of Japan, the locals are actually less aware of their own culture, regardless of age. Ask someone to explain the tea ceremony in Japanese.

      Ironically, it is often NJ enthusiasts that keep Japanese traditions alive, be it Sumo, geisha, or even traditional singing.

      Meanwhile the locals are scratching their heads at these “henna gaijin” for not appreciating the “living cultural treasures” of Hamasaki Ayumi/J pop, whaling, and other spurious and fictitious examples of what “Japanese culture” is.

    31. Sara Says:

      Hi Debito, interesting post!

      About filmography, there are so many other west films with japanese characters, for example, “The last samurai” by (Edward Zwick ) historical film http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Samurai or “Letters from Iwo Jima” Clint Eastwood http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letters_from_Iwo_Jima historical film, where there are japanese and asian actors playing japanese characters.

      As you said, and as you show us, in west movies, specially Hollywood films, sometimes, western actors have played asian and japanese characters in films, like you have mentioned Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (great movie) performing Mr. Yunioshi a comedian japanese character, and Youtube trailer, where we can see in japanese films appears japanese actors playing western characters and the result is funny.

      Related about Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I think in Hollywood’s Golden Age (30s, 40s, 50s, 60s) films, I don’t remember to see a japanese or an asian actor or actress in a West film, I dear to say, for example, if the character of Mr. Yunioshi was played for another 60s unknown asian actor, I don’t know how could be the acceptance of this film in Western society of 60s. And the other hand, later (70s, 80s, 90s) till now a days it’s different, because we can see more asian actors in West films, and I think this is an exemple of society evolution, because in a film we can appreciate how was the society and its historical moment when the film was made. Also, I think japanese films have their own evolution, and in west movies, we can see Japan and Asia with western point of view, and in Japan and asian films we can see their own point of view of Japan or Asia, but we can’t see their point of view of West in their films, perhaps it happens because it is how is now japanese society.

    32. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Sara #31

      John Huston’s ‘Across the Pacific’ (1942), starring Humph Bogart, features many Chinese-Americans, and at least one Japanese-American.

    33. Sara Says:

      Thank you Jim Di Griz for sharing this film, I haven’t seen yet, then I can see my own “theory” is down, well, it’s good to learn!

    Leave a Reply