Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: Zen Spaces and Neon Places - Reflections on Japanese Architecture and Urbanism



Zen Spaces and Neon Places Reflections on Japanese Architecture and Urbanism
By Vinayak Bharne (Novato, Applied Research and Design Publishing, 2014)

LAUREN W. DEUTSCH
KYOTO JOURNAL 81 


Vinayak Bharne is a distinguished scholar, educator and practicing urban planner (and contributor to Kyoto Journal among other prestigious venues) whose extensive CV would suggest that he has little time to step beyond the borders of his professional life to engage in intimate relations with the objects of his inquiries. Yet, since his youth, his heart and mind have been deeply smitten by Japan. This compilation of essays is proof: at once a “labor of love” and “a love letter to Japan”. Provocatively titled Zen Spaces and Neon Places, the text reveals his “reflections and intuitions” about “what is Japanese about Japan’s built environment”.

It is curious to this reviewer why lovers try to explain their infatuations and share them with others. Japan  has been the subject of so many literary suitors— from Edward Silvester Morse, Lafcadio Hearn and Ruth Benedict to Bernard Rudofsky and Harold Williams, to name a few writing in English alone. Kyoto Journal itself is a record of such romances. Does beauty, like misery, love company?

Each of us who has fallen hachimaki over zori for Japanese culture knows this feeling well, but Bharne’s professional expertise enables him to provide readers with some fresh perspectives. The book explores in depth the link between cultural attributes and architectural and urban planning considerations, historical as well as contemporary.

For example, in an early section on temple architecture, he takes us beneath the eaves of temple roofs to show how functional and aesthetic aspects of the joinery mirror Japan’s long-standing, sophisticated relationship with the source of wood. Bharne quotes Gunter Nitschke  who wrote in these pages:  “It has clearly been a cultural choice of the Japanese to make dwellings from living rather than dead materials, from trees rather than stones, and to rely on structures which because of their impermanent materials will have to be replaced every 50 to 100 years.”  In addition detailing building design and construction processes, Bharne comments on how Japanese styles adapt to the activities contained within them. He also explores in depth how Japanese aesthetics reflects a skillfully employs a broad palette of light and darkness, with glint and shadows shaping space and tracking time.

An expert in the 20 year sengu (cyclical rebuilding, of Ise Jingu) Bharne wonders about the event’s sustainability due to woodland management practice and land use planning. “While the two shrine complexes, the Ise Geku and the Ise Naiku, are meticulously preserved, the original five kilometer pilgrimage path that connects them and their surrounding towns, have been compromised by rapacious sprawl over the past few decades. Additionally, the sengu itself faces many economic and environmental dilemmas such as timber paucity, soil pollution and forest depletion, raising complex questions on its future.” Bharne writes more about this on the website of his private practice.

A prominent feature of Bharne’s book is his explanation of how public and private spaces, interiors and exteriors, collectively influence and are shaped by human activities within them. The “street is the fundamental element of Japanese urbanism,” he states, contrasting it with Western European cities developed around central public squares, usually with houses of worship. “It is as if traditional Western architecture used time to experience space, while traditional Japanese architecture created space to celebrate time,” He concludes.

His chapter comparing life in Kyoto and Rome, each the historic epicenter of its respective culture, is an attempt to discuss ruin and resurrection. Here he explores cartographic depictions of social and geographic features, such as gardens (Kyoto) and piazzas (Rome) and situates each in relationship to and impact of hills (Rome) and mountains (Kyoto).

Lastly, Bharne jumps to the ongoing evolution of Tokyo as the “modern” international capital and how, along with the restoration of the imperial government, Japan‘s economic and cultural leaders suffered bouts of bipolar identity from the Meiji period. On one hand, Japan was learning to know itself anew after a long period of isolation, and at the same time it sought to explain itself to the West. Renowned European and American architects were invited to create the new seats of commercial and eventual civic power, despite the efforts of local architects – some of whom studied in the West – to win commissions. Simultaneously, each of the gaijin (foreign) architects projected what they thought would be pleasing and practical along Japanese standards, not the least of which is to survive fires and earthquakes. Despite good intentions, sometimes they missed the mark, like the designer of the book cover who felt it would be attractive to link the word “Zen” with a graphic of a Shinto torii gate.

At the same time, Japanese architectural and artistic “genomes” (Bharne’s term) were making their way Westward figuring prominently in the work of such American luminaries as the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and the craftsman style of the Greene brothers. Bharne also surveys the internationally acclaimed work of Japan’s contemporary master architects, such as Arata Isozaki, Tadao Ando, Keno Tange, Fumikiko Maki and Shigeru Ban.

The flow of people’s ordinary lives—from work to festival when concentrated in urban environments is always at the core of his inquiry. While Bharne does mention contemporary capsule and love hotels, what’s definitely missing in this book is a discussion of the characteristics of the shitamachi, the “lower city”, as one might observe, for example, south of Kyoto Eki. Here one sees “discarded”, the impoverished, and the disabled. A mention of the challenges facing burakumin, and the relation between social class and geography, would also be welcome.

But this is, after all, a love story.

Review: Karesansui and the “ineluctable and illuminative thread”


Karesansui and the “ineluctable and illuminative thread”

KYOTO JOURNAL 82 REVIEW BY Lauren W Deutsch
9781780231907
“To begin with a chawan in the palm of one’s hand and end up imagining a garden, poem or painting reveals the richness inherent in Japanese culture.”
— Allen S. Weiss
When I began to study chado, the Japanese “way” of tea, this left-handed, Jewish American woman wondered whether there was a hidden agenda or symbolic meaning in the movements of the utensils from point a to point b … to point n. Since the ritualized presentation of chanoyu—literally preparing hot water for tea — flourished during the Momoyama period when the daimyos were waging war with each other, I mused: Perhaps the mizusashi (fresh water container) and kama, (kettle) stood for the castles of feudal lords, and the many codified arrangements of other utensils referred to battle strategies, much like the Xs and Os of a football coach outlining a play. Or maybe connecting the utensils’ footprints on the tatami mat in a particular order revealed a secret kanji code. It’s not far fetched; supposedly the siting of Japan’s colonial headquarters in relationship to city gates and palaces branded the map of Seoul with thekanji for “Dai Nippon,” Big Japan, which surely would have been thought to affect the geomancy. However, I was wrong in all cases. It didn’t make “sense” in Western terms, yet, I learned, there is great “sense” to be made out of all of it.
Over time as a student of a master teacher, the inherent integrity of the practice of this most Japanese of Japanese cultural complexes began to reveal itself in many more ways than just making a proper bowl of matcha, Japanese powered green tea leaf. The rigors of the lesson began to creep out of the tearoom and into the larger sphere of every day life. My senses began to incline toward jaku, (tranquility), born of harmony, purity and respect—wakei and sei in Japanese. Without the benefit of any capacity to read Japanese, I loosely defined the term temae, the procedure for ritualized making of tea for the guest, as to just undertake the matter at / in front of (mae) one’s hand (te). It seemed that I had inadvertently bumped into the refined “metaphoric and synaesthetic imperative” that forms the foundation of Japanese “aesthetics, ethics and epistemology”, to quote Allen S. Weiss, author of Zen Landscapes: Japanese Gardens and Ceramics.
Thus, it was with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to read Professor Weiss’ exciting new book, one that is just as much a significant contribution to the growing English-language library of volumes about the influence of Zen-steeped chado on the Japanese mindscape as it is about the creations of ceramic objects and fertile, well-cultivated verdant spaces—i.e. the “land”scapes promised in the title. He, too, experienced bewilderment about the “sense” made by Japanese aesthetics until further immersion.
The reason Weiss wrote this book is that, upon finally visiting Kyoto’s 15th-century Ryoanji karesansui – literally dry /mountain / water dry stone garden, he felt that everything he had read about it paled profoundly in comparison to being there. In fact, Weiss, an acknowledged expert in the gardens of Versailles, reframed his assumptions about landscape in general. “I immediately suspected that my disorientation went far beyond mere culture shock,” he shares. The more he explored other areas of Japanese culture the more he realized that such gardens and other art forms—especially tea ceremony, ceramics and kaiseki cuisine—were connected by an “ineluctable and illuminative thread,” Zen Buddhism and thus become a holistic cultural experience that is greater than the sum of the parts.
Early in his text he offers a thorough discussion of the often cited but too-often misunderstood aesthetic qualities of wabisabi and shibui, attributes popularized through the spread and institutionalization of chanoyu that now crop up in other art forms. “Both aesthetics and connoisseurship in Japan are informed by these complex existential and conceptual matrices,” he comments.
Weiss explores both the performative and material nature of chanoyu that enables the reader to understand the point of the ritualized experience: to heighten the senses of the guest that will serve her long after she leaves the chashitsu, the rustic hut-like tea room. The guest not only takes full advantage of the host’s hospitality, she literally imbibes those ubiquitous Japanese sensibilities. Further, by drinking matcha from the roughly fashioned hand-made ceramic vessel, the guest is also in communion with the potter who crafted it. Likewise, Nobel Prize winning author Kawabata Yasunari weaves his storyThousand Cranes around a white Shino chawan, by giving it significance and utility far beyond its being used as a vessel for holding a beverage.
Discussing the nexus of Japanese aesthetics on the material plane, Weiss notes Japan’s ceramic and garden arts owe their substance to the “macrocosmic five elements of the Japanese Shinto / Chinese Taoist cosmos”: fire, wood, earth, metal, water. An entire cosmos may be perceived in the colors and textures of a patch of glaze on a chawan, tea bowl or a weathered wall surrounding a garden. This illustrates the first of nine maxims of his “Manifesto for the Future of Landscape”. (See sidebar.) Even further, he observes, “… the cosmos can be compressed into the form of a small garden, the garden reduced to the disposition of food on a plate, and the plated “landscape” represented by the patterns on the plate or guinomi (ceramic sake cup).” His divertisement about kaiseki cuisine adds another hint about his diverse and extensive aesthetic range.
As a grain of sand might be compared to a rock, for his discussion on ceramics, Weiss focuses on the guinomi, a proportionately identical but miniature version of the chawan. (Similarly, the 1 : 2 ratio of dimensions of a tatami mat may be found expanded and reduced throughout Japan, from a folded kimono to an entire building.)
To this end, his choice of highlighting the guinomi enables him to cite the huge diversity of effects produced from the past to today by Japan’s 100 major and over 50,000 minor kilns without being subject to the rigors of the strict chanoyu system. Weiss explores evolution of ceramics in Japan with ample examples from the venerable functional work of the Raku clan over the past 15 generations to non-functional creations by independent contemporary ceramic artists who incorporate mass production, “damaged” and found objects. He discusses how the variety of fuel used in the kilns and other site-specific characteristics and can import a “clay flavor” to a cup. Through his examples, one can see how collaboration of human and elemental nature that create “pottery landscapes,” including superficial traces of minerals and cracks that give a work its character, is also evident in the earthen walls, plantings and stone settings of Japanese gardens.
While a pebble is not a rock, nonetheless Weiss allows that “Representation implies both abstraction and metaphorization, such that—just as the qualities of each morsel on a plate are enriched by the adjacent foodstuffs—the profundity of metaphor depends on both the specific beauty of each of the terms and the vast range of qualities that simultaneously link and separate them.”
Throughout the text, Weiss sets up scenarios, ‘scapes, that unfold in Japan’s refined, concentrated garden spaces that nonetheless expand in the mind, no matter how large or small they may be, whether one strolls through, dangles feet from a verandah or sits on one’s heels on tatami mats. Each of the three basic styles of Japanese gardens—dry, stroll and borrowed scenery—depends upon the serendipity that comes from working with natural materials and on “a powerful sense of enclosure and threshold,” to quote Andrew Todd.i
While seemingly frozen in time, the karesansui gardens in fact have constantly evolved not only throughout history and as a result of the impact of the weather and other natural forces on the garden elements, but also are constantly changing as a result of the viewer’s vantage, including the disposition of the mind and the position of the body. In terms ofchanoyu, the phrase is ichi go, ichi e. This one moment can never happen again.
Weiss, a scholar, author and producer of numerous performing art forms and film, serves up provocative ideas and stimulating questions about what “happens” in these “empty” spaces. The eminent theatre director Peter Brook, provides a hint: “The stage is a place where the invisible can appear….”ii The role of the visitor to Ryoanji or any venerable Japanese garden is more likely that of a participant in theatre, neither uniquely audience member nor actor. The typical visitor to Ryoanji sits on the wooden veranda of the head priest’s quarters and, too often, begins by engaging the view of the garden from the mundane mind/body: counting the nameless rocks that jut above / nestle within the field of raked pebbles. While it is said that not all 15 rocks can be captured in a single visual frame, Weiss notes the one vantage from where this can in fact happen. (I relied on Google Earth: 35° 2’3.90″N, 135°43’5.50″E!)
The hidden presence of objects in spatial context is also found in other aspects of Japanese culture. “The extraordinary discretion of Japanese connoisseurship demands that very few objects be visible at a given time, and that an important work of pottery will be seen but rarely,” Weiss notes and references Junichiro Tanizaki, author of the seminal essay In Praise of Shadows.
But as tempting as it is for the average visitor to “waste” precious time counting rocks, or musing on how the gardeners leave no footprints while raking the pebble patterns, the participant might take the opportunity to find herself incorporated into the patterns as they “flow” around rocks, and are confined by the surrounding walls. The totality of the scene requires the witness to complete the scenario, adding the “missing” piece of the puzzle from her very being. Yoshi Oida, a long-time member of Brook’s theatre group has a helpful question for the garden visitor: “The space asks the actor, ‘Who are you?’ It asks this directly to the being, the personality of the actor.”iii
Weiss also generously posits engaging queries such as, if one of the rocks split, would that increase their number? He recalls the story about how the American music composerJohn Cage used the image of the placement of Ryoanji’s rocks as notes for a musical composition by the same name. Unlike gardens with extensive greenery, Weiss propose that the stones neither grow nor die; this is the “job” of the moss. Other changes of the garden are products of the seasons, such as snowfall, the growth of opportunistic foliage such as moss, or a leaf dropping into the midst. And, if no one is there to witness that leaf falling …
Perhaps the ultimate abstraction of a Japanese garden is the Noh stage. Constructed of natural timber the stage includes four posts, reminiscent of trees, with a kagami-ita, backboard, upon which is painted an oi-matsu, pine tree. In this rarefied “garden” kami(Shinto gods / spirits) come and go, interact with each other, and remind the audience of their ubiquitous presence in the theatre in every day life.
“I am convinced that especially in Japan all of the arts share a common aesthetic basis,” Weiss noted in recent correspondence with me. Through his guidance, it is possible to imagine seeing the mountain in the distance from the edge of a chawan, or from a distance cupping ones hands around the tsukubai, stone water basin emblematic of roji(teahouse gardens). I am convinced that this book, too, is a garden, a theatre, and a vessel in which one may fully explore the integrity and vitality of that which we call Japanese culture that we are lucky enough to experience.
Footnotes:
i Andrew Todd and Jean-Guy Lecat, The Open Circle: Peter Brook’s Theatre Environments. (New York, Palgrave
Macmillan, 2003)
ii Peter Brook, The Empty Space (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1968)
iii Todd, Lecat, op. cit.

The Way of Tea(se): Sex in the City & Memoirs of a Gisha

Sex in the City
& Memoirs of a Geisha:
The Way of Tea(se)

From KJ 64, Gender in Asia
BY LAUREN W. DEUTSCH

 
Here’s a refreshing thought: ImagineMemoirs of a Geisha, the Hollywood blockbuster film version of Arthur Golden’s novel, made by the folks who created the American sitcom Sex in the City.
For those not familiar with SitC, hajimemashite
Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte are four self-determined, attractive, fashionably attired 30+-something upscale female Manhattanites. Successful in their careers, they are financially able to enjoy many of the material benefits that the city has to offer – including high-fashion clothing, nice apartments, cab rides, cover charges and good tables at the hippest eateries, performing arts events and, in one case, even being a single mom. Unlike Woody Allen’s classic characters, they are not apologists or angst-ridden. Nor are they desperate housewives. What’s even more interesting is that they are quite capable of leading reasonably well-balanced lives even when not in relationships – sexual or otherwise – with men. But finding the ‘right’ man is the binding theme. These women regularly check in with each other – usually over a meal or cocktails – exchanging news of their careers and their latest exploits in and out of romance. They offer each other compassionate commiseration and practical support, sometimes even disagreeing and being judgmental, but in a constructive manner. Unlike stereotypical “chick flicks,” to the writers’ credits, their conversations are not dumbed-down gossip. Rather, they reflect consciously upon social ethics and mores of the lives of the people around them and their own.
Most importantly, the quartet presented have succeeded in breaking through the “gender-role ideologies about romantic heterosexual love, which depict friendships between women as very much second best.” In short, they are true ‘girlfriends,’ there for each other, 24/7. Each has a sense of her uniqueness, power and vulnerability in a complex world that isn’t strictly male-defined (anymore). They are as interested in their interests in men as they are in the men they are interested in.
Just as geisha inhabit Kyoto’s labyrinthine Gion district, these women are classic cosmopolitan New Yorkers who know their way around the ‘hood. The show could just as easily have been called “The City and Sex” in its attention to detail of New York’s upscale ambience – its tony avenues and social ‘scenes.’ While there’s nothing so gauche as yesterday’s high fashion, I predict that the show will prove to be a classic, just like the little black dress.
The program is honestly, not stupidly or violently, about sex. When it premiered on HBO Cable it was weekly; not too much focus on sex for four vital women. Watching it seven days a week marathon one doesn’t OD on either ‘sex’ or ‘city.’ This goes to show how the topic can be interesting and diverse, especially when placed in the context of interesting lives. Their collective concerns are easily recognizable to most women: to marry or not, to have a baby or not, to see an old beau again and make up, make out or just do unto-him-what-he-once-did-unto-her. Even with the network TV censors’ heavy hands busily snipping steamy scenes, the original broadcaster’s manifest destiny is easily imagined. And when the going gets tough, the tough can always go shopping.
Memoirs of a Geisha could have been presented within this paradigm: to explore in good story-telling fashion the intimacy and fullness’s of one geisha’s life from the inside out. But no! The filmmakers fashioned yet another Orientalist representation of traditional Asian femininity crafted in the frozen imagination of a Western man. If the filmmakers thought they could hide behind a papered shoji, they were sorely mistaken. What a waste of an opportunity, not to mention millions of dollars.
That said,Memoirs of a Geisha is not much more than another Asian martial arts film with great costumes and sets. MoG boasts that a real geisha can stop an unsuspecting man dead in his tracks with a single potent glance. The weapon of choice is the ‘tease,’ rather than a sword or bow or even a craftily-wielded chashaku (tea scoop). Sounds ninja or samurai-ish to me.
The Way of the Tease, like geishahood itself, is a complex life lived according to a strict aesthetic code. It’s practice honed through a lifetime of gaman (endurance), and perfected through endless training and practice, like any other -do (aikido, shodo…). And it demands nothing less than total commitment to teacher, patron, ‘school’ and creed.
MoG suffers a spiritual void by losing touch with the inner power of the geisha. As real-life geisha Mayumi reflects in Jodi Cobb’s exceptional book, Geisha: The Life. The Voices. The Art, “A geisha contains her art within herself, and because her body has this art, her life is saved. That is the power of art – the salvation of one’s soul.”
The film MoG had no soul.
It would have enriched the story if we were reminded that this profession is a living art, an expression of the refined qualities of Japanese culture. There’s no reason to suffer so much to learn to play the shamisen. I understand the ultimate point of the argument that geisha are not prostitutes or courtesans, but I concur with the wise person who observed, “If they say it’s not about sex, it’s always about sex.”
Taking more than five years to make, the exhaustively-hyped premiere blushed in time for the 2006 Academy Award season. The result is as flat as an ukiyo-e woodblock print in the style of a souvenir postcard from a frazzled rather than floating world.
In both the film and book, young Chiyo is sold by her poor father to a peddler in virgins, and, is in turn, indentured to a renowned geisha house. The film places it in “Hanamichi,” a mythical Gionesque neighborhood of an equally mythic Kyoto-ish place called “Miyako.” This Meiji Cinderella story has the requisite stepmother, older ‘evil’ stepsisters and even a Pumpkin, the name of Chiyo’s sempai.
With almost “Whistle While You Work” resignation, Chiyo endures her servitude and even seemingly takes a liking to her performing art lessons. One enchanted day, she meets up with the dashing Prince Charming of her future who ignites her little girl heart (and cools her exhaustion) with a gift of bean-flavored shaved ice. Looking into her beautiful, dark eyes, he tickles her imagination by telling her that she could grow up to be a geisha one day, like the two lovelies (They giggle.) accompanying him. (They giggle again. Yes, with fingertips together screening the lips.)
Almost bewitched, Chiyo vows to seize her fate by its horns and to charge him with the responsibility to liberate her from indebtedness to her mistress through his intervention alone. In pure Hollywood style the film processes quickly through geisha turf wars, rape, extreme poverty, the Pacific War and the culturally inept American Occupation forces. Eventually Sayuri lives happily ever (and not a moment before). In the words of “Eliza Doolittle” the waif-turned proper socialite in the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, “A-o, u-dden eetu bi roberu-ri.”
The producers made a point of insisting, “It’s not a documentary … not a documentary … not a …”. No one thought it was going to be. The geisha whose life the original book was supposed to trace disowned even the well-crafted novel. But at least the book offered details of the angst and sadness that mirrored the early years of so many geishas’ lives.
If Steven Spielberg had directed, which was the initial plan, the audience might have been pressed to cry real tears as the young Chiyo climbed up to the okiya roof in a valiant attempt to escape back to her parents. There, true to form, he might have had Chiyo meet a friendly tanuki-san who looks not surprisingly like ET.
The press kit further boasted that the filmmakers were under some kind of ‘spell.’ According to director Rob Marshall, “I knew that the drama of these characters, combined with the allure and exoticism of their world, would veer from tradition when it was necessary to serve my vision of the story. I needed to thoroughly understand the reality first.”
The production team visited a geisha teahouse, sumo match and kabuki performance and soaked up the quaint vibe of the jewel that is Kyoto. There’s mention of the filmmakers consulting with gaijin geisha anthro-apologist Liza Dalby. Perhaps she was only consulted on the clothing, walking, and other production elements. All we see is see is stereotypical tourist trade.
There’s no mention either that they sought to understand the fundamental agony of young girls in the sex slave trade, a world that exists today in so much of Asia and other Third World cultures. How about selling one of their pre-teen children to one of Japan’s performing arts academies, such as those that run something like a reform school for and by the Takarazuka Review. (See my review in the print edition of this issue.) We’re not talking about after-school tap dancing or acting lessons encouraged by stage moms.
Going back to the Sex in the City model, the filmmakers could have given the story a new turn, to allow the geisha to speak openly. A good source of information would have been Jodi Cobb’s aforementioned, splendid non-fiction book. In it, Yuriko, a geisha house okamisan, tells of her miserable life, just like that of Chiyo. At the age of 19, Yuriko had mizu-age, the apprentice geisha’s first sexual experience; hers with a client who was 72 years old. “It now seems like sexual harassment,” Yuriko recounts. (Not a documentary … Not a documentary … )
A film doesn’t have to be a documentary to show how impossible it is for fragile paper, wood and tile architecture to shelter raging egos and hormones and secure the deepest secrets. Even with all that potential energy, the scenes had no ‘heat.’ In one instance, the reigning drama queen of the okiya stable, Hatsumomo, consumed in jealous rage that her former junior, now the fully initiated “Sayuri,” is poised to eclipse the senior’s chances to inherit the business. At once, Hatsumomo heaves a lighted lantern against the tatami, starting a fire. Anyone who has visited Japan knows that such a blaze would wait for no cue, much less “CUT!”, even from a famous Hollywood film director. It would take the neighborhood down with it. Maybe fantasy burns much slower.
Director Marshall reserved the most furious moment for Sayuri’s debut at the annual geisha coming-out dance performance. Her solo was a mad wild mustang rant with hoof-like zoris pounding on stage like a dance version of Equus. The scene was more fashion show runway than a Pontocho-esque theater. We are informed that from this point on that Sayuri became the toast of the town. Was the choreography supposed to be her release of years of pent up anger? I venture to project that would have scared your basic Meiji baron to death. What man would have the courage to even get near her?
On the melancholy side, the film was drowning in references to water; it always seemed to be raining. But rather than artfully capturing a few raindrops on old tile roofs, the filmmakers drenched hope and that made for soggy subtlety.
For all the ingenious lighting tricks and artfully fabricated sets establishing a faux teahouse neighborhood in the mountains north of Los Angeles, the crafting of new lamps from old fragments, it was all Hollywood artifice. The great shadow master, author Tanizaki Jun’ichiro, saw it coming, “Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize it.”
Clearly attracted to the external beauty of the Japanese aesthetic and Oriental women in general, the White male filmmakers never understood the roots or depth of its perfection, rather succumbing to the perfection of their own egos.
Truth be told, the real love of Geisha’s life is “Oscar”tm, a Hollywood samurai whose long sword and Kinkakuji patina can stop a filmmaker dead in his or her tracks with just one nomination nod. As I wrote this, the Academy Award short lists had just been announced, with MoG honored in six predictable production categories: Cinematography, Art Direction, Original Score, Makeup, Costume Design and Sound Editing.
I have some additional categories to expand the universe.
Best Lasting Impact in Fashion: “I think the low neckline in back will definitely be noted by the fashion world again soon,” said Costume Designer Colleen Atwood. How low can you go? A year later, I can report no such trend.
Best English as a Foreign Language Film: This wasn’t one of those old fashioned Occidental productions where the Ls and Rs are mixed in comic relief. It was a hybrid of sounds that the pan-Asian cast could barely muffle and native English speakers, understand. This faux pas puts it into an additional category:
Best Film to Rekindle Old Feuds: Tied with Spielberg’s Munich. The film may not be released in China because of the casting of Chinese actresses in the Japanese role.
Best Geisha Metaphor by a Film Critic: Richard Rushfield, another Los Angeles Times staff writer, penned, “The Road to the Nominations Announcement, however, starts at midnight with a minutely choreographed kabuki dance in which the academy theater opens to the production staff, the Hollywood press and to me, who comes to watch the ritual unfold.”
Best Truth-Be-Told by a Film Critic: Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times wrote: “By the time Sayuri asks, ‘What do we know about entertaining Americans?’ You want to say, ‘Honey, please, you’ve been doing it for two solid hours.’