I had the opportunity to be invited to a dinner with Steven Spielberg last night. We talked about Memoirs of a Geisha which Steven's studio, Dreamworks, will be producing. I imagined the difficulty of getting it right. It appeared that Steven and his team are going to work hard on this. The book has been criticized by some in Japan as either revealing too much, or emphasizing one aspect that doesn't reflect the geisha today. Other people love the book. I think they have a challenge and am eagerly looking forward to how it comes out.
My sister is teaching a class on how cultures are portrayed in movies and we talked yesterday about how many American movies are about Americans going to foreign cultures and "conquering" them. Even Kill Bill, which was one of my favorite movies this year, might have been more fun if it focused on the American obsession with oriental things, rather than setting it in Japan where the American triumph over the Japanese ended up being more highlighted. I'm generally a sucker for a good laugh so I loved Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, but my sister asks in the comments of our Chanpon blog
I found myself wondering what the film would have been like given a Japanese-American protagonist? Or what if they were not pampered ruling class hipster Americans staying at the most expensive hotel in Tokyo, but visitors of the more pedestrian tourist type? I also find myself thinking of visitors like Justin who resolutely refuse to take difference for granted and wander reckelessly through the most unpaved backstreets of Tokyo, confronting surprised Japanese in charmingly broken Japanese. What would a view of this kind of "othered" Tokyo subjectivity look like?In Davos, I heard that soldiers going to Iraq watched The Battle of Algiers, which is a movie about how the French foreign legion tortures and mistreats the population, eventually turning their allies into enemies. My discussion with Shekhar Kapur about his decision to direct Long Walk to Freedom was also extremely thought provoking. I also remembered today, the opening of "Pearl Harbor" in Tokyo Dome. I got a weird chill when the over 30,000 Japanese in the audience cheered during the scene at the end where they bomb Tokyo.
Cultural understanding is one of the biggest problems facing us today and movies have a huge impact on how we understand culture. Movie makers, more than ever, have an opportunity and responsibility to help us understand each other.