One primary shortcoming of film is the reduced ability to fully convey a cultural milieu. The need to compress content to fit within the confines of a film necessitates removing many scenes, easily conveyed in novels, which are able to present the kind of cultural environment which promotes understanding across unfamiliar audiences. This reduction can be managed, but in the environment of study across textual mediums, still becomes readily apparent as evidenced in Picture Bride. Kayo Hatta’s film centers on the immigration experience of Japanese to Hawai’i’s sugar cane plantations. While many aspects of culture are exhibited in the film, they are often forced into reductionary examples rather than consistent themes.
One common theme found in Asian American literatures, for example, is that of heroic eating. This is often presented in the form of anchoring cultural myths or stories from the particular homeland, and is present in Warrior Woman, American Son, “Moon,” and other texts, but is very nearly absent in Picture Bride. During one scene in the film, Riyo and Kanzaki are sharing a meal, while in another, Riyo partakes of lunch in the field with other women, but the common theme of eating one’s way out of trouble or performing a feat is absent during these two scenes. As a result, the rich Japanese food culture is also reduced to merely rice and chopsticks, limiting true immersion in this culture, and therefore limiting understanding of the immigration experience for audiences.
Another common theme in Asian American literature is the presence of water and its association with spirituality. This theme is much more present in Picture Bride, although not to the emphatic quality as in Comfort Woman, possibly because incorporating water into a scene is not time consuming as portraying a scene primarily of heroic eating. Water, in fact, is clearly one of Hatta’s decisions of thematic emphasis, as the director incorporates water throughout the film, from opening credit ocean waves of transport to crisis point ocean boundary to cleansing rain near the end. Riyo continually interacts with water throughout the film, crossing it, being bound by it, and achieving a self-harmony and cleansing through it. One aspect that is missing in Hatta’s incorporation of water, however, is the spiritual integration and transport aspect of it. Culturally, again, this limits the audience’s experience of the culture being represented, and therefore limits the representation of said culture.
Although choices must be made in conveying another culture to an unaware audience, this does not necessarily lead to inauthentic representation. Hatta clearly addresses the characters in the film as individuals who possess desires, needs, and psychological traumas. This is not always the case in films, as orientalist approaches can lead to portraying foreign qualities as a way to alienate audiences to characters, environments, or time-period. Films such as Blade Runner and The Last Samuraitake advantage of this alienization effect, and in doing so provide inauthentic portrayals. But by focusing on his individual characters, and portraying them as people instead of foreigners, Hatta manages to avoid this pitfall, despite the requirement to reduce cultural content to merely image or mention.
Hatta, Kayo, dir. Picture Bride. Los Angeles: Miramax, 1994. Video Recording.