The “Geisha” controversies.

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Zhang Ziyi.Rob Marshall‘s "Memoirs of a Geisha" has its world premiere in Tokyo tomorrow — we’ve made some mention about how extra-special our sight-unseen dislike of this film is, but we’re not the only ones fuming on the inside and ranting on the internet out there. There are two particular controversies and one possibly disproven one out there and up for discussion. May we?

Issue 1: Zhang Ziyi is Chinese but is playing a Japanese geisha.

Issue 2: Zhang Ziyi is Chinese but is playing a Japanese geisha.

Non-issue?: Zhang Ziyi gets nekkid and has hot sexx. Really a sub-part of Issue 2.

Stick with us as we parse the first two, because they really are two very separate things. Part the first: back in January, someone wrote in to Roger Ebert asking him if he didn’t think it was a bit of a scandal that Zhang was chosen for the lead role:

Ms. Zhang is a lovely and talented actress, but don’t you think that in all of Japan there is an equally talented and lovely Japanese actress who could play the part? I wonder if the selection of a Chinese actress to play a Japanese woman will sit well with Japanese fans of the book.

Ebert pragmatically answered that Zhang is the most famous Asian actress around at the moment, and that casting is generally all about star power. We’d heard that people were fussing about this, but it seems a lot like an issue that journalists would fall in love with and cover out of proportion than a real one. And yet, there the folks are, duking it out over at the IMDb boards for the film.

For fuckssake, all — the novel was written by a white guy born in Tennessee, who, as Isabel Reynolds at Reuters reminds us, was sued by Mineko Iwasaki, the book’s main inspiration, "failing to maintain her privacy, after he described such practices as ‘mizuage"’or the selling of a young geisha’s virginity to the highest
bidder, which she has been reported as saying does not exist." That, and it’s been Hollywood-ized into such a slick bit of orientalia that the lead’s ethnicity should be your least authenticity concern. Not to mention that we throw an Oscar nom at Meryl Streep whenever she slaps on an accent a pretends to be another ethnicity — of course, that’s acting. God forbid the women in this film be allowed that; they should be limited to re-enactments of their quaint cultural practices for our enlightenment.

Which brings us to part two, which we’ll pass along to Walter Chaw at the Film Freak Central Blog:

At least it’s better, a little, than Rob Marshall’s "Memoirs of a Geisha" which, besides describing one character as a war hero for being injured in the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (the sort of thing that irks me if no one else except two billion other Chinamen), has Chinese woman Zhang Ziyi and Malaysian-born Michelle Yeoh cast as Japanese Geishas. It’s the equivalent, not to put too fine a point on it, of a fine Jewish actress happily playing a heroic Nazi prostitute – bless Maggie Cheung for turning down the opportunity to sell out her culture. (And for what? Memoirs of a Freakin-Geisha? There’s not even the question of subversion here.)

[Chaw makes more fine points on the subject here.]

From Reynolds at Reuters:

"She’s sold her soul and betrayed her country. Hacking her to death would not be good enough," China’s state media quoted one blogger as saying of Zhang.

We suppose it comes down to that eternal dilemma — do you jump at a role that involves selling a bit of your soul because you know it’s the most plum one that will ever come around to you in the US? Or do you maintain the moral high ground and remain unknown to most of the international moviegoing public?

On to the nakedness: Jeremy Goldkorn at Danwei points out some stills making the rounds on Chinese forums, allegedly from a sex scene in the film, that riled up many a nationalist. The images turned out to have not even been from "Geisha," but discussion continues. Grady Hendrix at Kaiju Shakedown points out some infuriated translated Chinese editorials on the topic.

And over at the LA Times, John Horn reports on the filmmakers’ efforts to get their various Chinese, Japanese, and Malaysian-born actresses to speak in the same halting, accented English.

+ Star power overrides ethnicity (RogerEbert.com)
+ Hollywood geisha raise eyebrows in Asia (Reuters)
+ Notes from the Trenches (Film Freak Central Blog)
+ Zhang Ziyi and Ken Watanabe – naked pics; hypersensitive ranting (Danwei)
+ ZHANG ZIYI’S "BIG WHITE BUTT" (Kaiju Shakedown)
+ Uniformity, so to speak (LA Times)


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.