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Townsend Harris is sent by President Pierce to Japan to serve as the first U.S. Consul-General to that country. Harris discovers enormous hostility to foreigners, as well as the love of a young geisha.Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Totally bizarre casting, but it's still very watchable
In THE BARBARIAN AND THE GEISHA, John Wayne plays Townsend Harris, a real envoy from the United States who was responsible for truly opening up Japan to International relations in the late 1850s. Before him, Commodore Perry basically pushed into Japan with gunboats and forced a treaty upon the Japanese in 1853. Harris, who arrived just a bit later, worked through the details and helped ensure compliance--as many of the Japanese felt no particular inclination to honor the first treaty. All this is true and shown in the film. According to some other sources I found, the romance between Harris and a Japanese Geisha is mostly fiction and this romance is much of the focus of this film (hence, the title).
My first reaction the first time I saw this movie was one of surprise. John Wayne as a diplomat?! When he's being diplomatic in most films, he says please and thank you as he pummels people!!!! So seeing him playing a man who is NOT a man of action and is able to play the diplomatic game seemed very odd indeed. In fact, I can't think of too many actors in 1958 who would have been more unusual for this role. By the way, I've seen photos of Harris and Wayne has practically no resemblance to him at all.
However, despite the story taking a lot of liberties with the truth and the strange casting, the film is still very watchable. The color cinematography is nice, the film shows some nice insights into Japanese customs and culture and the acting isn't bad. All in all, a likable and watchable film despite it's odd casting.
PS--Read through the trivia for this film. You find out a bit more about the real life characters as well as a supposed fight between Wayne and the director (John Huston) where Wayne apparently knocked him out!! Based on what I've read about Huston and the way he got along with actors, this is an incident I tend to believe. And, it's also a nice example of John Wayne "diplomacy".
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