They all look the same...

mark schilling schill at
Mon Aug 30 01:02:07 EDT 2004

The casting director for "Memoirs" told me that the decision to use the Chinese actresses was mainly box office calculation -- they are among the few Asian names the American audience knows. They have also demonstrated their ability to handle English -- essential for an all-English project like this. 

In addition to Watanabe, Yakusho Koji and Kudo Yuki have been cast, which may make the film more acceptable to the Japanese audience. Also, she quite likes what she has seen of Marshall, saying that he is enthusiastic and sincere. 

One problem is that, even with the best dialogue coaching, the Chinese are probably going to sound "off" to anyone who knows what a real Japanese accent sound like. This may matter more to Japanophiles than the multiplex masses, though.

More seriously, the Japanese industry people I have spoken with about the film are angry and disappointed that so many of the  geisha roles are going to foreigners. "It's an insult, really," one told me. It's somewhat like a Japanese producer casting Jean Reno as a cowboy, thinking that no one is going to object in the target market -- Japan. Americans might, however -- especially if the cowboy is supposed to be an All-American Clint Eastwood type. 

And what is more All-Japanese than a geisha? 

In other words, the "Memoirs" people are asking for commercial disappointment, if not disaster, in Japan. After "The Last Samurai" grossed $127 million here -- more than it earned in the States -- casting Japanese stars in Japanese roles you would think that Hollywood might have learned something. Guess not -- the wheel is still being re-invented as we speak.

Mark Schilling  

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: JAG 
  To: KineJapan at 
  Sent: Monday, August 30, 2004 2:30 PM
  Subject: Re: They all look the same...

  I wouldn't give up hope that there might be something of interest besides the sideshow. 

  A Kyoto friend who's becoming something of an expert on geisha, spent about a week in July helping Rob Marshall and a small crew scout Kyoto locations and somebody from the art department buy properties (hair ornaments, jewelry, etc). My friend said he was especially struck by the 'eye' of the buyer and the command Marshall had over his crew, seemingly largely due to his earnestness. 

  He also said that the plan is to only shoot in Kyoto for about two weeks some time around November.

  It is sad that so many of the Japanese roles are not being played by Japanese. I would be interested to hear other members' speculation why this is so. Is it just name recognition? 

  Anyone care to offer their propositions for Japanese actors to fill the roles?


  Update on myself: Last year I learned of the list while getting an MA in Film Studies in Dublin. (Thanks again to all who helped in my reseach.) I'm now teaching mainly eikaiwa at Kyoto area universities, trying to do more with Film Studies and hoping to at least dabble in production. (Until I fill out my schedule, I'm also putting the experience gained in Ireland to good use, working in an Irish Pub in Gion, through which many interesting characters pass. Stop in if you're in town and I'll pull you a pint.)

  On Aug 29, 2004, at 7:49 PM, Mark Mays wrote:

    Yeah, did you expect any more from them? On the other hand, maybe some great controversy will erupt from it all and provide some interesting side show.

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Mark Nornes 
    To: KineJapan 
    Sent: Sunday, August 29, 2004 7:40 PM
    Subject: They all look the same...

    A few years ago, Spielberg was interviewed in the midst of preproduction for Memoirs of a Geisha. The reporter describes costume designs for the film's kimono spread out over a table, and admires all the elaborate images of dragons decorating the costumes. Ever since that moment, I've been looking forward to how cheesy the final film would be. Looks like I won't be disappointed. The dragon motifs foreshadowed the casting: Watanabe Ken will be joined by Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, and Li Gong. 

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