Foreign wives of Japan offer NHK and ‘Massan’ criticism and kudos
At a press conference last week in Tokyo, which she attended with senior producer Ken Sakurai, Fox spoke of the challenges of learning her lines in an unfamiliar language. “This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life — every day in the beginning was the hardest day! I can’t sugarcoat it. You have to get up every day and memorize sounds that you don’t understand.”
As a group, the AFWJ women had some problems with NHK’s physical depiction of Ellie and her early behavior upon arrival in Japan in the early 1920s. Sixty-two percent questioned the need to make Ellie a platinum blond. (Rita Taketsuru was brunette.)
While acknowledging that the very blonde hair helps to separate the identities of the fictional Ellie and the real-life Rita, some participants said it also perpetuates the image that all foreigners from Western countries are light-haired.
“Ellie was already different enough to not turn her into a Timotei model,” says Nancy Baldwin, another American.
Others noted that NHK could have paid a little more attention to the fashions, with Ellie’s dresses and hairstyle being more reminiscent of “Little House on the Prairie” circa the 1880s. Historical accuracy aside, however, 64 percent agreed that Ellie’s looks are designed to appeal to the Japanese audience.
The section of the survey related to Ellie’s actions soon after her arrival in Japan drew the most united response. A whopping 83 percent took issue with the fact that Ellie attempted to hug all and sundry upon initial meetings. Many women commented that hugging would have been as foreign to the Scottish a century ago as it was to the Japanese.
At 76 percent, almost as many members said that many of Ellie’s initial antics, such as trying to walk into the house wearing shoes or clumsily knocking things over, only serve to reinforce stereotypes of “typical foreigner” behavior.
“I think she would be naive about this country upon arrival but the way that that inexperience is portrayed and expressed is rather childish, and not that of a woman who had made the decision to leave her family to live in a very different and distant country,” says Laura Kawaguchi from Canada.