RE-VIEW: The Case Of Sakuran

Disclaimer: The manga and Movie Sakura is geared towards an older audience. Both Manga and Movie share mild nudity, sexual exploitation, exploration and other themes. Readers’ discretion is advised. The following also contains heavy amount of spoilers.

I was eighteen when I watched this movie for the first time. It didn’t shock me, it didn’t strike me as anything original. Without knowing where it came from, I disregarded the movie as an adult movie without any clear meaning, in my defense, I watched it for fun. It was much later that I found out that it was based on Manga. My curiosity peaked.

Watching in it again with my eyes alert on cinematography language I have a new perspective of this movie. I just want to point out that this movie doesn’t have an Anime counterpart and I think it will never happen.

To be clear, what I am about to review is a huge departure from “The Case Of” section. The speculations and theories we can draw from the conception of the Manga and the Live action are too interesting and too coincidental to be just that. We will review the movie normally in the last few bullets, but there are a few things I would want to discuss first.

I also want to clear that I couldn’t find the exact interviews from the Manga author or from the director of the movie which gives us even more room for speculation. If you have found any type of interviews, please send them my way in the comments, it is always nice to see how the minds of everyone involved in a production work to understand where they are coming from.

As compelling as it is… it’s was a shady move in my opinion.

The Motives Behind Sakuran The Manga

Sakuran was a one volume story about a girl being brought up to a brothel during the Edo period. It is a linear simple story and I dare to say a little window to how a courtesan’s life was like in that period.

The Manga artist is Moyoco Anno, a business woman, a fashion writer and book author at the same time. Her stories are directed towards young adult women in Japan; in Manga magazines, this demographic is known as “Josei”, which gives us the general idea of what type of works she has.  Sakuran was released in 2001. While a hit in Japan it was unsuccessful to have moderate success over the years and overseas.

Unfortunately we have zero interviews and zero insight of what inspired Moyoco to write a Manga with a theme that is eye-sided in Japan and Western culture to this day.

If we take in consideration that the Manga never took off and never was provided with any adaptations in Anime, one has to wonder why and how Sakuran was conceived.

Finding the Link

The book of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden was released in 1997. The author’s research was based on the life of a prominent Geisha in Tokyo. The book was instantly controversial.

The criticism morphed into a lawsuit by Mineko Iwasaki, Golden’s source, whose basis was that the author of the book used her name when he promised to protect her privacy. The lawsuit was settled privately so we don’t know the real story on how everything got resolved and if the motives behind the lawsuit were actually based on a privacy breach, slander or a false accusation – given that Golden said he had recorded and stored all the interviews but not much detail was made public.

More than that, there was the controversial statement that the author made about the ritual named Mizuage, which has to do with the fact that a Geisha had to sell her virginity to the highest bidder which sparked so many debates a few saying that it was slightly accurate and others denying it completely.

Iwasaki denied it but another author, Sayo Masuda in her Autobiography released during the WWII, mentioned that many Geisha had to sell their bodies to survive. However, it seems that in her biography she makes an effort  to clarify repeatedly that it was not the norm, not a rule and not something that the Geisha had to do in a ritualistic manner.

While researching on the topic of the Mizuage, it seems to me that the lines are still fuzzy on this topic. If you want this topic expanded, you can read this debate here.

Taking in consideration the honor and pride the Geisha community has, selling their body for the sake of the community is not something that I would see them having to do just “to belong to”. Without a clear answer I turned to a few comments on blogs for a different perspective and I found a comment on the same blog that may turn on a light of what may have happened and is more in tune of what Sayo Masuda talks about in her book:

“I am going to make what may be an unusual comparison here, which might clear the air a bit. I work  as an exotic dancer. Similar to geisha, we are expected to dance (albeit with little or no clothing on), sit with patrons and engage them in conversation, etc. Naturally, we get offers from men who would like sexual services from us. Some dancers take these offers (and nowadays I think it may be more than half, due to economical factors, greed and etc.), but some refuse.

So I think it was for geisha. Like exotic dancers, since they worked so closely with men they were doubtlessly propositioned. And most likely, many geisha took up those offers, tempted by the money. But I highly doubt that all of them did.

Whether or not a woman who works so closely with men, like an exotic dancer or geisha, chooses to prostitute herself is a personal choice. Exotic dancers are always told by clubs not to do such things – I’m sure geisha were told this as well – but enough money could persuade some women who were weaker of will to indulge. Money is a powerful bait. And it is at this point that judgment becomes difficult. How can one judge en masse the thousands of women who became geisha over a personal choice that varies from individual to individual?” (Username: Chiyo, July 8th 2013.)

I must say that my thoughts align with her views more than it does with rituals. The confusion from the author might come from the other side of the coin, the Oiran.

Oiran were women who were groomed the same way Geisha were and lived in extravagance for their main attraction which was to entertain. The main difference is that one of them had to sign a contract to entertain and to do sexual favors to the clients, mainly the latter.

The Oiran had set rules that they lived by and money was what defined those rules. Their way of expressing themselves through their dress, through their hairstyle and make up was similar to a Geisha. So what was different just by looking at them? Well, the Oiran did whatever the Geishas did in a more extravagant manner and showing more skin.

In Mineko Iwasaki’s words in her response book “Geisha, a Life”: “Shimabara used to be a licensed quarter where women known as oiran andtayu (courtesans, high-class prostitutes) plied their trade, though they were accomplished in the traditional arts as well. A young oiran also underwent a ritual called a “mizuage” but hers consisted of being ceremoniously deflowered by a patron who had paid handsomely for the privilege.”

I think that the confusion of the author may have come from this, or, he tried to spin the tale to make it more marketable to Hollywood audiences by combining the two sides. The problem was that it was not a representation of the Geisha life and, in fact, it did little to wash away the stereotypes that Geisha were not different than high-class prostitutes.

The whole ordeal regarding the lawsuit was news in 2001-2003 and the book by Mineko Iwasaki was published in 2003. In the midst of accusations, death threats and trends to give historical Manga to the public, it’s as if Moyoco said: “Do you want the life about a high-class prostitute? I will give you high-class prostitute”… and that’s how Sakuran was born. At least, in my mind.

A parade which celebrates the sexuality of a woman, as well as being objectified.

The Motives Behind the Live Action

Despite the backlash of the book and the controversy that it spawned, the plans for a movie never slowed down until its release in 2005. Winner of a few awards and nominated for seventeen more, Memoirs of a Geisha was in everybody’s mouth.

Without the need to go too deep into the Web, we have seen the fair criticism that the Hollywood hit went through which focused on the use of actors that were not Japanese. While I don’t align to the train of thought of cultural appropriation (which often seems like people are alienating themselves to be segregated), I do think that the main problem lies within the text rather than the casting. I wouldn’t have liked a Japanese woman knowingly misrepresenting her own culture and history.

Nevertheless, the movie was highly criticized by the simple love story that motivated the main character. While beautiful in style, the story was hollow.  In other words: all looks, no substance.

The criticism the film gained was not only picked up by film critics, but also by regular people. To the point where the hilarious MadTV did a sketch pointing out exactly what was wrong with the film and parodied it perfectly, to the point of watching the sketch gives you enough spoilers to skip this movie entirely.

I remember being entranced by the visuals when Memoirs of a Geisha became a sensation. I was another voice in the vast sea regurgitating what everyone was saying: “Memoirs of a Geisha is awesome”.

It was only after I graduated and received my basic classes of cinematography that I watched the movie again and it was a completely different experience: I hated the story.

The Cinderella role is what made me gag the most. I have nothing against passive women if that’s their choice, but this idea usually has nothing else to add than being a recycled plot which Disney loves, a plot that Hollywood loves.

Sakuran was released only two years after Memoirs of a Geisha was done on film. I believe it is not a stretch to think that Sakuran was the counterpart of Memoirs of a Geisha  with a more daring proposal about the main character choosing her path on her own terms and being one of the most interesting piece of cinematography Japan has put out there.

With a more than talented cast, interesting plot and a director who knows how to bring forth the most important parts of an adaptation, Sakuran has become one of my favorite adaptation movies so far.

“What’s behind the smoke and glass? Painted faces, everybody wears a mask.
Are you selling them your soul?” (Welcome by Christina Aguilera, 2006)

Stylistic Red

Sakuran visuals are stunning, vibrant and piercing to let you know that the Edo Period was not all about modesty.

Mika Ninagawa (director) is known for her style of vibrant colors and her obsession for natural settings to look artificial (more on this later). While she is not really invested in using visual symbols that often or using abstract visual symbols, her strongest points is to create the mood and tone with colors.

In Sakuran, we can see her style shining in glory. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the lighting, the costumes or the backdrop, there are colors everywhere to signify the extravagance of the Red Light street.

There is so much red in every  shot and in every corner of the screen almost at all times. I was trying to give a significance of the use of colors by the traditional sense: Giving a meaning to red, the use of blue lighting, the use of  pink and greens.

The more I watched, I flip-flopped in my reasoning. Red overall seemed to be the most prevalent color so I thought that it would have some meaning, maybe envy, revenge, jealousy, blood… but all shots have red, so what gives? In the end, I came to the conclusion that I was over -thinking the meaning of colors used.

The issue with my train of thought is that (when the director is competent) the stylistic choices have to come from somewhere and usually mean something. If it’s there, there is a reason for it… I just wasn’t asking the right question.

“Why do we even call them red light streets, anyway?” I thought. And there it appeared, my speculation as to why red is so predominant in this movie and it was a simpler explanation.

It is a beautiful dreamlike cage, nonetheless a cage.

Red is a color that is not visually pleasing. Red is often used in sense of urgency, anger, to represent blood and danger, we are clear on that; it is also used to represent flames, the devil, decadence, amorality; in this train of thought we can find red also being used to represent a nightmare, and it is.

The situation Kyoha is in, is a never-ending nightmare, red, because is not a color you can feel comfortable with, is used to unsettle the viewer; after all, the premise of the movie is not a fairy tale.

Seeing so much red in every shot, desensitizes your senses and when we see some shots color-washed, neutral, gloomy it is so noticeable and it makes you feel even more uncomfortable. In a nightmare, you know happy endings don’t exist but at least you have hope that one day you will wake up; in reality, everything is uncertain and hope doesn’t seem something that goes a long way.

While I still believe that her use of the lighting is to signify the mood of the scenes and used in a traditional sense (blue lighting to represent sadness, melancholy and reflective; greenish filters to represent nature and hope, pink to represent love and white lighting to represent purity), red is the stamp of danger and anger that Kiyoha has on her body.


“A fish and a bird may indeed fall in love, but where shall they live?”, Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert, 2010.

What does Substance Mean in Sakuran?

Let me start by fangirling a little. The main actress who plays Kiyoha is the acclaimed, the legend and the rockstar: Anna Tsuchiya.

Anna Tsuchiya has always been considered a rebel, so a role like this is not out of her comfort zone. She has always been controversial and is not afraid to risk her reputation for the sake of art. As a rockstar she has a star quality and a strong personality that matches western singer’s charisma more than a Japanese one. Not even the most controversial Asian rockstar is as controversial in real life than Anna Tsuchiya (due to extroverted personality which you can easily see in TV appearances), compared to her, all of the other rockstars look cookie cuttered (for Japanese standards).

The role of a strong, tomboy, aggressive persona was not new to Anna Tsuchiya. In fact, I believe that there is no other girl who could’ve fit Kyoha’s role.

She did a wonderful job at portraying the main character and most of the dialogues delivery were more mysterious, quick-witted and charismatic because of her.

Sakuran is a big departure from the story of a girl who waits her destiny to be fulfilled. Kiyoha is stubborn, aggressive and smart. It makes us think that she will do anything to escape her situation. Being thrown in a place where her major fears is puberty and what that means living in a brothel.

In a sense, the movie explores themes more interesting than just the wish to escape. Case in point: she could’ve cried and surrender every five minutes making the movie a melodrama about her poor life, but she didn’t. For the most part, we can see that she was going to get what she wanted in her own terms, without the need of throwing pathetic tantrums.

In the Manga we see more moments where she breaks down, but backtracks rapidly with Kiyoha putting a fake and girly smile. In this sense, I would say the movie does a better job portraying how frustrated she is with the situation without giving away too much of her inner thoughts. During the exploration of her past and present, we see her as an uncontrollable beast.

Awakening from a dream, the future seems uncertain. Until she finds out he was only after physical pleasure.

There are two meaningful moments when she breaks the pattern of being defensive all the time. Both of these moments, involve her wish to find real love, the pure, unadulterated, unconditional kind of love. Her heart was the only thing the brothel couldn’t control and the only thing she would not let the brothel control.

I want to give attention to the use of the space and the overall presentation of the props. There is a sense of artificial beauty throughout as you might expect from Ninagawa. The set is an ode to Japanese theater and the position of the actors in a frontal long shot is a dead giveaway. There are unnatural backdrops, contrived hallways and the strategic placement of the floors and doors giving the appearance of order and symmetry, but it’s only that, appearance.

The chaotic bursts of colors reveal the truth in between the rules, the facade of happiness, elegance, extravagance and empowering message. It reveals how ruthless competition can be and how enslaving their world really is. We are outsiders looking in. We are fooled by the shallowness of seduction without knowing how intense emotions run behind the curtains.

The story proposes that women inside the brothel are sexually liberated, however, that doesn’t mean that they are more than that. Heartbreak is bound to happen sometimes with blood being spilled.

Sakuran serves not only as a commentary for controversial topics that could be applied to today’s conversation about women and the rights over their bodies, it also serves as a commentary of the period they lived in, the rules and punishment they had to take if they didn’t follow suit.  It is substantial, it has something to tell, it has a lesson to teach.

We could go on and on about how deep, dark and interesting the themes proposed are, believe me, we could. It is a direct contrast to what we saw two years before the conception of this film. Ultimately, in terms of storytelling, what Memoirs of a Geisha did, Sakuran did better. The irony of it all, is that Sakuran is a work of fiction and I think that is the parameter that makes me confidently say, “Sakuran is the better product”.

Takao rejoices after setting up the perfect trap to bring Kiyoha down. For passion, for love, for anger and for the desire to be free.

Translation is Everything

If you had the pleasure to read the Manga, you may know that the story is simple, short and maybe with too many retrospective thoughts and inner voice. To be honest, the Manga is not perfect.

At times, the storyline may appear messy in its writing, jumping from memory to memory. It feels disjointed and sometimes difficult to follow due to the panel placing and the pacing in general. At least it was for me. Sometimes we are distracted by text when the action is already a few days, months and years in advance. The backgrounds can look too minimalistic, and the exposition of the main character does not let us breathe.

The movie went beyond the original material tweaking the storyline/timeline by adding their own twist which made the material feel fresh.

The film even added new relationships and meaningful conversation halfway through the movie being a departure from the original source without even being noticeable. The ones who have read the Manga may have found some contradictions here and there; however, for the casual viewer it was not that big of a deal.

The story starts with a cliffhanger which was necessary to fit the Manga format to hook the audience, but starting the movie this way would be too convoluted. The screenwriter, (Yuki Tanada)scrapped that idea and preferred to write something that progressively builds up the tension between the characters and resolving the first “arc” with the demise of Kiyoha’s antagonist in the first half of the movie. In other words, the director decided to re-arrange the events of the story covering the 13 chapters in the first hour and in the second hour, she decided to include more plots.

This simple change made the story produce a trickle event, it forced the movie to not to rely on flashbacks and inner monologues. Instead of internal monologues with reverb or telling the tale upclose and personal with the mic, we got mumbles and whispers as if the characters were talking to themselves.

The adaptation in the first hour (which is the enterity of the series) is so good, that revisiting the Manga it made me confuse the events so much that sometimes, scenes of the movie would pop up in my head thinking it was in the Manga and vice versa.

Another thing to praise the movie for is the dialogues. They are definitely better in the movie. Many times they are concise, precise and focuses on the actors’ expressions. You can read what they are thinking without them having to say a word.

The end result is a much clearer storyline without too much exposition. It let the visuals flow naturally and it diminished the amount of flashbacks that were really needed to tell the story.


A few of the instances when we see a prevalence of pink… Although red drags your eyes to the bottom of the screen.

Music: a Reflection and a Contrast

The West has used this technique many times in different films for reasons that, once you think about it, don’t have any bearing within context and they don’t mean anything more than trying to “fit with the times”. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t work or that it’s bad, in fact, many of the films could be disregarded as a stylistic choice, but in movies… what can’t be attributed to stylistic choices?

The correct term is Anachronism. Defined by the Cambridge Dictionary:

“A person, thing or idea that exists out of its time in history, especially one that happened or existed later than the period being shown, discussed, etc.”

Marie Antoinette, Django Unchained, Moulin Rouge, A Knight’s Tale and even can be attributed to the more recent success of Hamilton, the musical, among many others use anachronism.

Sakuran has to be the most interesting mix and clash of anachronism. It exacerbates the script to a whole different plain. The soundtrack was conceived by one of the Japanese musical treasure: Shiina Ringo.

Ringo has been one of the few Japanese singer/songwriters and composers who can’t be boxed into any musical genre, unfortunately in her pursuit of art, she is often overlooked by the constant plastic image recording companies want to push onto the public.

Her contribution in Sakuran was more than precious. The combination between traditional pop-jazz (a la Broadway style), bossa nova, Tango, Tango with a European classical music twist, electronic –pop and metal rock ballad music make a case about the overall theme: it’s over the top, it’s out there, it’s glamorous, it’s passionate, it’s fervent, it’s scandalous, romantic, devoted, with a sense depraved behavior, seductive and intriguing… almost as describing the stereotypes of North and Latin American people.

We have Japanese folklore music popping out here and there but it’s never prevalent, what is prevalent is this mash of musical genres that evoke  all emotions taken to the extremes, just as the visuals, the character’s life and the story.

Love, passion and sex are often intertwined with envy, discord, jealousy and betrayal. It is an epic clash as the portrayal of sex while talking about murder; the portrayal of death while talking about hope, purity and love; the portrayal of love and loyalty while sharing their bodies with other clients; the portrayal of being trapped and being free at the same time.

There are a lot of silence as well as if indicating how lonely life in the brothel really is.

It is a bold statement as much as the movie is making a bold statement. The visuals and the music complement each other and at the same time clash with each other. It is not only a clash within context, it is a clash of different cultures.

Sometimes, when anachronism is present, it can fall on deaf ears without seeing a clear correlation or seeing a superficial correlation between the two. Sakuran has to be up there with the best examples of the best use of this technique.

I discovered Shiina Ringo through Shaman King back in 2004 when I started to read the Manga. Back in the day, it was difficult to find a single song related to the artist as it still is today, and it hurts my heart that Japanese companies are still reluctant to put their faith in streaming a little more. I could find Sheena Ringo on Spotify (#notsponsored), however the soundtrack for Sakuran is not found anywere digitally.


Have we found… the perfect movie?

In terms of adaptation and as a standalone movie, Sakuran is one of the best I have seen. It is entertaining as it is meaningful; it is a visual and a music celebration. The story is great and the casting actors are top notch (I saw you as well, Hiroki Narimiya… such a shame he had to retire, though).

As any other films, Sakuran is not devoid from flaws or at least some pet peeves that I found. Lets leave the visuals, the music and the lighting behind and lets focus a bit in the script-writing. Personally, I have problems with the ending. Whenever a movie ends with an open ending in Hollywood, people stand up and scream, “Oscar bait!”  while others chant, “Lazy writing.”

In my eyes, Sakuran is no different. In this sense I favor the Manga in this aspect, but not for the reasons you might think.

Because it is an entirely original script in the second part, there seems to be an apparent and shallow shift from the main character’s goals. First, Kiyoha swore she would get out from the life as a courtesan plenty of times and when the opportunity comes she wonders if that is what she really wants.

If we were to analyze her position we would see that even if she gets out from the brothel with a prominent Samurai (Matsumoto), she will be imprisoned again as a wife of someone she doesn’t even like.

For Kiyoha, the most important thing is the freedom of choosing her own destiny and who she decides to love. If he were to go with Matsumoto, he would be no less than a courtesan: He would pay for her life this time and not only her body.

The ideal thing would be escaping the life she’s known with the man who she can love fully. We get that ending, in appearance, but, like with everything in this movie,  it’s also a grim reality.

In the Manga, everything ends when Soujiro (Kiyoha’s first love) displays only passion and not love. Kiyoha is destroyed and has no other choice than to come back, indicating that every love affair she would have after Soujiro would be a repetitive cycle as it was for Takao.

A courtesan’s life may look glamorous, but in reality is not; everybody has their own battles, it’s your choice if you want to cope or if you want to break. If you choose to cope, you can find your own truth, and if you want to break you are open to disappointment. That’s the message. I am not here to argue if it’s a good message or a bad one, it’s just that this is the message.

The message of the film is less clear, it’s an open discussion. One can say she did finds her own truth by escaping with the love of her life and others might say that she repeated the same pattern for the sake of being in love and later being heartbroken because she never really escaped and just decided to reject the marriage by disappearing that evening coming back the same day to the brothel.

We can argue that on both of the endings and on both of the scenarios, that it’s the same message: you will never imprison Kiyoha’s freedom of choice. We are good on that.

The question is, did she or did she not escape from the brothel? For me, most likely she returned to the brothel. How do I know? A girl at the end says the following when she saved a fish putting it back in the tank: “That’s the only place you can live in”. She didn’t escape.

The decision Kiyoha has to make casts a shadow on who she wants to be VS who she is and who she will become. We return to green-ish tones fading away into the darkness (hope?). We see how red takes a better space in the shot. Blue light signifies the melancholy. They are both turned away from the camera… could it signify much more than that?

Let me tell you, it would be a long and tiring battle to see who is right, the reality of it all is that we don’t know… because it is an open ending.

You may like it the way it was, for me is just being controversial for the sake of being controversial. There are enough clues for a clear ending but there is no clear ending. In other words, I didn’t like it.

I would not have liked for her to marry Matsumoto either, it is not a matter of pairings for me, it is a matter of substance.

Let me put it this way: if escaping and freedom of choice was her resolve, how come she never took action before it if she always had a clear mind of what she wanted to do? What other clues can we draw that tells us Kiyoha could’ve escaped and choose her love so easily and at any moment?

“She did the ceremony in which she was dispatched as an Oiran” you might say… then what was the point of the girl saying that it’s the only place the fish can live in? Was it just a reflection of her situation? Was it a foreshadowing comment about Kiyoha returning?

I will wait for your comments. In the meantime, let me ask you if you don’t feel how the story cheapens by exalting her infatuation with love as an excuse not to run away? What other excuses she could’ve made to go back to the brothel? Heartbreak? Stigma? Honor? Loyalty? Friendship? Pride? Or… a man? The character Kiyoha built during the whole movie and the themes explored were brushed off instantly the moment she decided that her truth was to follow her infatuation.

In the real world, I would not have any type objections about it. It’s your life, boo; you do you.  If you think that leaving everything behind to build a life with a man who can give you what you are looking for, more power to you, as long as it is your decision, no one has the right to criticize and I will defend your position against all odds (if the guy is not an a*hole, of course).

I wonder if I could’ve been satisfied if she actually stayed for the girl. What if she tried to escape with the girl? Who knows? I just wanted to see more of these type of interactions, I guess.

The problem is that movies are movies, and the problem with this movie is that this scenario has been overdone, recycled, washed, dried and worn out.

It is a cocky way of saying: “See. Memoirs of a Geisha? This is how you do a love story about prostitutes with the courtesan following her heart the way Sayuri followed hers, but better.”

The disappointment comes in once you start analyze that maybe the whole “deepness” Sakuran tried to achieve in two hours wasn’t all that deep and it was a simple message about “following ones heart”, cool message…   if it wasn’t for the fact that the movie repeatedly hammered that most of the courtesans can’t escape and that Kiyoha’s resolve was pointed out as, “if life gives you lemons…”

Once again, I understand why people may have loved this ending; to be honest, I expected something else and is maybe the reason why I stored this movie in the back of my mind since it came out.

This is not the only complain I have. The other plots explored in the second half made me go, “Really? For real? Why?” With that said, was it really necessary to include the fact that Kiyoha was pregnant but lost the baby? Or was this just an excuse for Kiyoha and Seiji to have their heart to heart moment? If so… feels contrived taking in consideration how different their opinions are.

Returning to Kiyoha’s character assassination, for being someone whose opinion was always at the tip of her tongue, she really made it seem like she couldn’t have said anything regarding marrying Matsumoto or expressing her attraction for Seiji.

And the arguing continues. Was it because she didn’t know what to do with her life? Was it because she wanted to respect Seiji? Was it because she wanted to be out of the brothel but not with Matsumoto? Or was it because the scriptwriter had to pull everything on the top of her head just to fit two hours of runtime and she hit a wall once she started to introduce a love triangle?

If I were a betting woman…

Now, the lack of interviews makes me wonder what was Moyoco’s involvement during the planning of the movie and if this is more in line to what she wanted to go with in the end. I am not sure, please, once again, if you have any sort of interview or comment from any of the people involved, link them down so I can have a better perspective on these decisions or if my opinion can be waved.

… But is it Good?

Aside from the issues I found, which were not that many, to be honest, overall Sakuran is a fine piece of Japanese media. It has many elements which we can enjoy since, as I stated, it is a festival of color in every sense of the word.

While there are not too many elements of visual symbolism, we can still draw some shots that makes us think twice. There are two moments that come into my mind:

The first one is the scene when Takao had her revelation. During the whole movie, we see how she mistreats, threatens and steps on Kiyoha at every turn, talking about how she is only a prostitute and that love isn’t something they are bound to get. We know her constant bicker comes from a place of  going through the same situation as Kiyoha, but it’s only when she looks at her reflection and realizes her beloved’s constant avoidance, that she understands why she is so mad about it all the time.

It is unsettling as it is beautiful to look at.

The second one is the second visit from the Samurai. It is a display  of the theatrical falsehood that we were talking about earlier. We can see vertical lines everywhere, we see that the stage has been divided in two sections. There is a visual division at the center of the characters to signify the distance Kiyoha desires to have, but at the same time there is a frame in which the scene is contained, which means that both are looking for the same thing: love. We have seen this shot before in other movies, but here, it is more in your face.

We are looking from the outside. We can see the abundance of gold in Matsumoto’s side, which can be interpreted as abundance and honor, but take note that it is all around him. He is dressed in sheer light blue to signify his intentions. On the other side, Kiyoha’s black backdrop is a reflection of her heart as well as the red bonsai which represents her feelings towards the situation. Kiyoha’s wealth is strictly contained in her body with the hair piece and her dress.

Those two scenes spoke to me, however, Ninagawa doesn’t focus too much in symbolic shots, we can see that her statement is that the movie needs to be seen as a whole. The story, the music, the backdrops, the costumes, the colors, the props are strategically placed at the right time and this is constant throughout the movie because it wants to communicate something to us.

Is true that this movie is not perfect, but I do think that this is the perfect movie to study closely in cinematography in terms of creating moods and finding a style working only with the backdrops and the costumes. It is also a lesson in terms of adaptation, casting and an effort to create something unique.

Taken as a whole, the theme is red and everything that red could signify.

I Rate it:Rating System 2.png

Considering there are just two types of media for this work (manga and live action) and for the Sake of adaptation lessons, I would advise for you to read the manga and compare it as well. 



4 Replies to “RE-VIEW: The Case Of Sakuran”

  1. “… red! is the color of sex, and fear, and danger, signs that say do not enter… “, quoting Lola, from the movie Kinky Boots. I believe this is the answer you were looking for. Indeed, Id say she over uses the color red, because the main plot in the movie is sex, even though is not really that visible, but implicit in the whole movie.
    I never watched Memoirs, didnt find it interesting. On top of that, Id blame the big japanophiles out there, we have that insane idea that Japan is the utopia of life, when in reality theres so much sexism and behaviors that would make us tremble in the western part of the world. And this makes so easy to bend information coming from this asian country and shape it to make us think of things that arent really how their culture is… at all. And how so? Its so difficult in this side of the hemisphere to find an actual source of information from this far away country, probably thats why people think geishas are and always will be prostitutes.

    Sakuran is a pretty movie, visually speaking, also as you mention, the ost is very unique and adds a lot to the movie. Reminds me of the anime Samurai Champloo with its music by Nujabes.

    This is a fine movie for young adult audiences to watch, for cultural value, its a must.


    1. Thank you for your comment!

      I thought about the underlying theme of sex, however I think that would be too easy to tell, wouldn’t it? I tried to think about other significance in which red comes to play during the movie.

      As for Memoirs of a Geisha, I think that as film enthusiast, it’s a good exercise to see the cinematography, I have nothing to criticize Memoirs for in that department, as I pointed out, the problems of that movie lies within the text and dialogues, and in that aspect I would understand if you don’t want to watch it.

      I agree with the fact that much of the information we get from somewhere so isolated like Japan is skewed in the perception of their society, but I also think that the secrecy they maintain regarding certain topics are not helping us understand them either. So in the end, it’s everybody’s fault in that aspect.

      And yes, I do think this movie deserves more attention especially if you enjoy Anime, Manga and cinematography!


    1. Thank you for the shout out, Carrie!

      And also, thank you for redirecting me to your post(s). I already have them on my bookmarks so I can read some of your recommendations. Tokyo Tarareba Girls placed high on my list.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s