Chinese Geisha

…don’t exist. It therefore might seem rather controversial that the ethereal Zhang Ziyi plays one in the cinematic adaptation of Arthur Golden’s bestselling novel “Memoirs of a Geisha“. Indeed the decision to cast her and Michelle Yeoh as Japanese has raised a few eyebrows with some describing it as a refusal to recognise the diversity of Asian cultures and others mistaking Geisha for prostitutes.

Personally, I believe that this has got more to do with ignorance and underlying racism than anything else. I’ve not read the book or seen the film yet so I can’t really comment on its contents but sufficed to say those who have are not being overly negative in this way.

I guess the only thing which might annoy me is that it’s been made as an English language film but then again the book was written by an American and it would have had little chance of being a mainstream hit if it was done in Japanese.

This is one film I can’t wait to see in the New Year!

David avatar

19 responses

  1. Donna avatar

    As I know there is no such a job as Geisha in China, play a japanese geisha in the movie is personal action of Ms.Zhang Ziyi, I think the title will lead to some misunderstanding.

  2. Yep, ignorance is a funny thing!

  3. Alan avatar

    Many critics have mentioned the fact this is a Chinese actress playing a Japanese character. But how is this different from other movies where a white man plans a Native American… or a Mexican, etc? Perhaps the only difference is in today's progressive society the filmmakers should “know better”. But when money/marketing speaks… is there a Japanese actress who is as good marketable?

    1. Kitty avatar

      I couldn’t agree more. Your point is spot on and I can’t see why Zhang should be criticised for an amazing job, the film cleary was a tremendous success and she played her part extremely well.

  4. JANELLE avatar

    The fact that these actresses have trained and brought themselves to a point in their careers that they can play in major hollywood movies is exceptional. Instead of being praised for their accomplishments they are being criticized. I feel that they should be proud and move to acquire more films under their belt. The fact that they could not find a japanese actress experienced enough to play the part just says that all asian actresses must step up their game if they want to star in american movies….we are so over the age of subtitles

    1. Annie avatar

      so the age when Americans could actually read is so over, Janelle?

  5. koishii avatar

    one word – koyuki

    she was really good in Last Samurai…

    She sould've made an excellent choice for any one of the 3 major Geishas.

    1. Orlando Perez avatar
      Orlando Perez

      Who remembers the film Scar Face, with the leading role is played by y a non Cuban person plus by speaking with a heavy Accent that made us Cubans Laugh. It’s because we don’t speak that way. Don’t get me wrong, I love the movie, It’s just every time I watch it, the first thing that comes to mind is that Al Pacino, is not a Cuban. So I can understand what the Japanese people are saying. Let’s look at this another way. What made Full Metal Jacket so great. It’s because the film had a real Marine Drill Instructor to play the part. If they would had used an Army Drill Sergeant to play the part as a Marine DI, then we would have had some problems with the Marines by having a U.S. Army service member playing the part of a highly respected position without earning the title of a United States Marine. Same thing goes by having a non Japanese person playing a highly respected position with the tradition and culture that comes behind it as a Geisha by simply putting a Non Japanese person to play the part as a Geisha, of course this film is gonna bring some heat with the Japanese and Chinese people, and I don’t blame them.

  6. I totally agree. At the end of the day a film is creating a fiction, and unless you are portraying it as historical fact the story you tell and the people who portray the characters are fairly irrelevant. Zhang Ziyi executes the role exceptionally which is all that matters really.

  7. John G avatar
    John G

    I'll have to agree with Koishii.

    It needs to be tempered with what Alan says though as well. It doesn't really matter who plays the part but more how. Zhang Ziyi nails the part and shows more her talent, poise, and beauty than her country of birth, race, anything else.

    We are very hung up on political correctness, which may be rooted in how political our actors and actresses have become. For me, this part -lives- on the screen and it also ends at the credits. Nothing more really needs to be said aside from it's simply beautiful.

    Other actresses could have been picked, but I'm glad they went with who they did. I can only say that however, because I didn't get to see the version with Koyuki playing the lead! She would have been stunning in the role too I'm sure.

  8. Katsushika avatar

    Hi im Katsushika Matsuyama ( thats of course not my real name just my nickname), and i have studied the lives, tradition, custom and i can say everithing about the geisha for i can say 4 years now.
    i had read the book and seen the film, and a have to agree with the ones who say they should have paid attention to the customs, and almos everything. if a look at the film adeptly i would say they [edit] up the whole story. if i look at the film as an ordinary women i say it so beautiful and sad and etc.
    you have to know that word to see the wrongs in that film.
    it is more for the show.
    about the actors, they only searched for asian actors who speak english, and thats why there are so many many chinese in this film about a unequivocally japanese story. yeah there is ken watanabe there, but they has stolen the idea from the last samurai.and i agree with Koishii too because the are a lot of good japanese actresses, they just didnt look for them.thats all.
    Tom Cruise at least gone to Japan to make a film about something japan.
    And for the audio, or stubtitle, Janerre, there are a lot of other countries outside of america, and this may be a hollywood movie, its still about a japanese world.not everything is america. im for example is from Hungary.
    so thats what i wanted to tell.
    by: Katsu

    1. Odessa avatar

      Eheh, do a little more research “Katsu”… half the cast of that movie DID NOT speak English and had to learn their lines phonetically. The reason they have a lot of Chinese actors is because well… take a look at things… how many Japanese actors are out there? Okay, so there was mention of Koyuki for one of the main three roles… what about the other two? What film makers do when they are creating a movie is suspension of belief. This is an entirely made up world. There isn’t an over abundance of Japanese actresses unfortunately, at least not immediately available in the U.S.

      Though I will say that before anyone else would at all fuss there was also the actress that played Chiyo that was Japanese as well a slew of other actors/actresses.

      And more than anything… why exactly does it matter the precise race of the actors/actresses? It is because people are so up in arms when there is a lack of “political correctness” or acknowledge of a race or culture THAT REINFORCES RACISM. How? Try closing your eyes for once when you talk to someone. Hear what they have to say. Culture is very important, but the person themselves as an individual means more.

      And… are you a Japanese person living in Hungary? If not, you should be using your own name or something of Hungarian culture so you maintain political correctness and pride in who you are. Unless it’s all just acting. Then everything is okay.

  9. Andrea avatar

    I find this interesting, since the majority of Scottish blockbuster films that are without Scots in the leading roles. For example, Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange in ‘Rob Roy’, which at least was mostly filmed in Scotland, ‘Braveheart’ with Mel Gibson (!) as the Scottish protagonist – filmed in IRELAND. ‘Highlander’, with Christopher Lambert as the leading man…French. Mike Myers as various Scottish roles – Shrek for example. If a Scottish accent was a must for Shrek, why not use, well, A SCOT! (Euan MacGregor for example). Let’s not even discuss ‘The Water Horse’ or ‘Loch Ness’…please. Yes, ignorance is a funny thing.

  10. Zhang Yuki avatar
    Zhang Yuki

    I love this film, and I dont really find it racist that they cast a chinese person in this role. Zhang Ziyi is a brilliant actress and is very good in this role. I have only seen a couple of actual geisha preformances, as like most for most Japanese they’re a bit too expensive to go to alot! 🙂 Though my great grandmother knew one!

  11. Miss Sing Song avatar
    Miss Sing Song

    reality check.. Chinese geisha do exist.. under many names.. in fact they are a major predecessor to the Japanese courtesan culture.

    Japanese geisha were in fact formed by the social strictures imposed because of confucianism.

    which is minor to the fact that China has an even more notorious “geisha” idea for woman.

    Your post is ill researched.

    1. Miss Sing Song avatar
      Miss Sing Song

      the traditional Chinese courtesan died out more officially during 1860s.. but the culture was immitated during later times..which became corrupted.. and degenerated to a mostly prostitute culture.
      Much of the downfall was due to the rise of the manchurian takeover.
      the qing dynasty and the new laws.

      Before qing dynasty.. han culture had a very rich and written, “flower and willow world” as opposed to the realm of the wind and moon.

      the term geisha actually originates from official terms used in Imperial China

      艺妓,乐妓,生妓, 名妓

      and countless more.

      of course you have your high ranking, lucky few..
      and you have rock bottom.. but that variation is in every culture

      “There actually is/was such thing as Chinese geisha.
      however, they do not share the same name as the Japanese geisha, and the culture differs from their japanese counterpart.
      The Chinese figures are a predecessor of the Japanese geisha.

      In ancient china there was no stylized differentiation of classifying names due to the general degradation of women.

      They were classified among the prostitutes and in fact a character in their name means prostitute today,

      艺妓,乐妓,名妓 … etc.
      Yiji, Yueji, Mingji

      though in the ancient time, those terms did not only mean prostitute.. it was just a general offical name..
      Some of them did not provided any sexual service.. and they still were recognized by that name.. the term during the more ancient periods, implied performer sometimes.

      There are educational accounts and texts that have adopted the Japanese institution, geisha, for refering to a certain class of Chinese courtesan.

      for in fact some services of these ancient chinese women were mostly delt with classical Chinese arts; calligraphy, painting, music, poetry etc.
      and even spiritual, mutual understandings with clients of intellectual kind.

      There are traces of this geisha tradition in a more primal form throughout the earliest dynasties of China.

      Where they observe many values of humanity as they live extraordinary lives.
      the accounts of the most famous of the Chinese geisha were recognized..

      especially courtesans like 苏小小 Su Xiao Xiao from 502 Qi Dynasty China.

      A woman who explored values of love, humanity and beauty.

      They (like the Japanese) marked importance in that they did not prostitute themselves: “they sell their art, not their body.”

      The two cultures japan and China concidering geisha can not be congenially compared.

      They are very different figures related to eachother,

      Chinese Geisha no longer exist today because chinese cultural revolution wiped all traces of courtesan culture.. Japanese Geisha are not even allowed in China.

      by “Nightingale”

  12. Leigh avatar

    Who cares what nationality the actors/actresses are? The entire definition of acting is “pretending to be something you’re not”.

  13. alie avatar

    i have to do a research and make charts all about japan , and the school warned as not to make anything that has to do with the chinese . and now that i got lost “does geisha belongs to the chinse people or the japanese ? ”
    the kimono girls belong to japanese people , right ?

  14. […] actor of color, but you’re not dark enough, so we can’t hire you. You may be Asian, but you’re not Japanese, so expect plenty of hateful backlash. Of course there are valid arguments behind these decisions. […]


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