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Sex and this city

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By Trenton Truitt

I noticed the "Sex and the City" trailer playing on a continuous loop at the aptly named Vogue Café in the Tokyo National Art Center the other day. Taking a peek inside, I saw a table of well-dressed 30-something Japanese women. They were all chatting away, sipping from martini glasses like it was their job, and staring wide-eyed up at the SATC girls above them — the Japanese equivalent of Carrie and the gang, doing their thing in Tokyo.

With the immense popularity of the TV show and now the blockbuster movie, the NYC gals have dug their high heels deep into the female psyche all over the globe. The effect they’ve had on Japan, and in particular the mindset of women here, is particularly striking. Not known for its progressive position in terms of women’s rights, Japan seems the perfect place for the fabulous and feisty cast to work their magic.

I’ve noticed that my single Japanese female friends (mostly in their 30s) are all smitten with the show, and the lifestyle it conveys. What first attracts them is the glamour of it all. They, too, yearn to swan around town with Fendi bags and Manolo Blahniks, downing coffee and cocktails in the trendiest places, chatting about boys, clothes, sex and love.

The SATC gals seem to have a lot of free time — and a constantly bulging Louis Vuitton wallet. It’s a way of life that’s extremely appealing to the working women of Japan, who are struggling to forge a modern and progressive identity in a culture that often has a traditional and dismissive view of them.

Aside from the surface extravagances, the "Sex and the City" women are unique, complex and independent. They have interesting jobs, don’t rely on men to support them, and generally play by their own rules. These qualities seem to fascinate the women of Japan, who are still burdened with the pressure of having to act like meek and fragile dolls, willing to bow politely (and give up seats graciously) to men who will one day “honor” them with marriage.

And it is the romance between Carrie and Mr Big, as well as the love lives of the other girls, which really hits home. Constantly pressured by parents and society to find a husband lest they bear the shame of becoming a "make-inu" (loser dog), Japanese women connect with the relationship struggles on the show. They are fixated on finding their own Mr Big, which in the end seems as difficult in Tokyo as it is in Manhattan.

So, as women here grapple with traditional ideas about their role in society, the show may be helping them realize that they can express themselves about everything from sexuality to bodily issues to heartbreak, and that they are entitled to love on their own terms. If you don’t believe me, check out the revealing and uninhibited posts on the SATC Mixi fan site.

Yet, despite the galvanizing effect that the show has had, it shouldn’t be forgotten that SATC is a work of fiction. Obviously, not everyone can afford to buy $400 shoes or live in a luxury apartment, and working Tokyo women have far less time to sip cocktails with their gal pals. And sometimes, the disconnect between the show’s fantasy world and the real lives of Japanese women takes on a darker aspect.

I am reminded of an ex-student of mine who was absolutely obsessed with the program, especially the character of Charlotte. She was always impeccably dressed and coiffed, her husband was an investment banker, and she lived in a luxury flat in Roppongi Hills. On the surface, she seemed to be living the fantasy. But one day I caught her discreetly blotting away tears along with the remnants of her Chanel eyeliner. She had just had a fight with her husband, whom she claimed had been beating her.

“Why don’t you call the police? Or get a divorce?” I asked. “Women in Japan just have to accept it,” she replied. “The police don’t care about it, and I wouldn’t be able to do anything if I was alone.”

Charlotte wouldn’t tolerate this, I thought. And then it dawned on me how little my student had actually learned from her idol.

If women in Japan are to be empowered by the example of Carrie and her mates, they must embrace what these ladies stand for, not just what’s on the surface. They have to be aggressive, thoughtful, and not afraid to pursue what they truly want in life. They must rise up in their Jimmy Choos, wave their martinis in the air, and shout to the rafters, “We are geisha no more!” Only then will their Mr Big appear. Surely, Japan needs to take a lot more serious action than this in terms of women’s rights. It can’t hurt to dream, though.

Trenton Truitt is a Tokyo-based freelance writer and editor (Ia-forum.org). This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp)

© Japan Today

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31 Comments
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Seen one episode? Seen them all! The audience in Amerika has been hypnotized by these kinds of shows. And they remain clueless, just like the Japanese audiences will be, as demonstrated in the article.

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I confess... I have never seen this show.

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I like Sex and the City. It is very funny and all the situations are so true but exaggerated which makes them very entertaining. I love it. I have never met a man who likes the show because men are revealed as half wits or gays in the show.

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This is the stupidest article I have read so far on JT. I have seen every episode of SATC. It is important to "know your enemy" so to speak. SATC spends as much time satirizing the neurotic personalities of western women in relationships as it does glamorizing their independant lifestyles. That is what makes it so funny for dudes to watch too. The 4 girls are all nuts just like in real life. I sincerely doubt the writers or the actresses ever meant for these ridiculously funny and emotionally unstable characters to be idolyzed.

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KaptainKichigai

Great post. I always cringe when I see or hear the words "Defined a generation" when referring to a TV show or movie. When should we let that ever happen?

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seen half an episode....seen them all... It's a drama, much like any other Japanese, Korean, British, Australian, Canadian soap opera type piece of #$%?%&*@: Anyway, I'm sure it makes for great entertainment for those who enjoy being stuck in the city all their lives. I for one if were rich enough would live on a luxury cruiser and travel the world.

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KaptainKichigau is right. This article is pure crap. The author could have walked into a cafe 30 years ago and seen the same thing. Or 150 years ago.

Seriously, learn something about Japan.

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The movie is past its use by date.Not worth going to see.Wait for the rental if desperate.

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Aside from the surface extravagances, the “Sex and the City” women are unique, complex and independent. They have interesting jobs, don’t rely on men to support them, and generally play by their own rules.

They're nothing but surface extravagance! Complex and independent? Try shallow, needy and self-involved. And if they have jobs, you'd never know if from watching the show.

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I hope Japanese women can keep their good points and not try to emulate these TV characters -- it's just damn TV. I am sure many American viewers find the show not worth watching.

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SITC was a no-show anyway as it was only broadcast on cable/satelite. So most don't even now about it hence why the movie only shows at "selected" cinemas.

Most overseas movies, etc are here straight to DVD, etc anyway. Want to see Lost, 24 , Heroes, etc you need have cable/etc.

So the article is just so much fluff.

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cwhite, its not a drama nor a soap opera. its almost pure comedy. Its a very funny show. Its quite a lucid look at the irrationality of emotions and relationships.

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Yes, I agree with KaptainKichigai. It is a comedy, many exaggerated situations but at the same time very true and that is the reason why many women can identify themselves with the characters. It is one of the not so many american shows that I really like. I like the show very much, that is why I bought the book but still the series are much better, the book's laguage is too obscene.

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Women here are forced to give up their seats? "Honored with marriage"?

Dude, you obviously don't know a damn thing about Japan.

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Shugotomaru said in very few words exactly what I was going to say in a paragraph. Yeah, nobody can deny that SATC is a pop hit, but using it as a barometer for lifestyles tells me that the author is pretty much driving in the fast lane of Dingbat Blvd. It is as blatantly dumb as using references to "Friends" to judge NYC lifestyles 10 years ago - everyone had lots of spare cash then, too - even the struggling actor guy. Oh yeah, that and the "give up their seat" and "honor with marriage" remark. I'm sorry, but, I'm laughing so hard, I can't type any more.

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Re: The New Zen

SITC was a no-show anyway as it was only broadcast on cable/satelite. So most don't even now about it hence why the movie only shows at "selected" cinemas.

You're joking, right?? I'm surprised no one has called you on this yet.

Most don't even know about it? Which country are you referring to?

And the cable company you're referring to is HBO, perhaps the most successful cable channel around, which has produced a wide variety of ORIGINAL programming that has become hugely popular and won multiple TV industry awards. Examples of some original HBO shows are:

The Sopranos Six Feet Under Curb Your Enthusiasm Deadwood Oz Rome

and, yes, Sex and the City (SATC)

Just because you don't know about SATC or any other HBO show doesn't mean other people don't.

And just FYI: The SATC movie is the top opening romantic comedy of all time, and has grossed over $300 million worldwide so far...

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Lets take it slowly for you so you can catch up. What country does the article refer to? Japan. What site are you on? Japan Today. Where do many poster here live? Japan. See the pattern forming? Good.

I know all about the HBO shows BUT they are NOT broadcast by HBO in japan. Which you would know if you even were in japan. Same way you would know that those shows are minor here.

Just because a show or movie is big in the USA don't mean it is so worldwide.

Clear enough now?

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To make it clearer the USA has 400mill people the rest of the world is how many Billion?

So worldwide takes should exceed US takes by a factor of X. Right?

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Zen: US is 304 mil. (http://www.census.gov/)

Still - point taken and agreed.

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Zen: I think I'm just barely keeping up. Thanks for typing slowly. And I am in Japan.

I think most would agree that this movie has a limited demographic in Japan (and perhaps other countries). Thus the limited cinema release here. But the demographic that it does appeal to, in Japan, has taken quite a liking to it. Which the article touched on. I didn't know that every article that appears on Japan Today has to be on a subject that a large percentage of the population finds interesting. Or maybe because SATC largely appeals to women, then an article about it is "fluff", according to you?

Anyway, who cares if HBO shows are minor here? If there's an article on JT about a TV show I like or want to know more about, I'll read it. Same as others, I suppose. If you're not interested in it, why read it?

And I don't have cable but I still watch my favourite shows (CSI, House, Amazing Race, Dexter, etc.). You don't need cable to see any of those shows, or the ones you mentioned.

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If your credo identifies with the satirical display of product placements, boorish behavior, sluggish contemplation, sexual curiosities and suggestive banter then the cinematic version of Sex and the City will be your cup of tea for the fleeting moment. Otherwise, the rest of us will be scratching our heads as to what is so liberating about these aging, curvaceous capitalists with the lingering provocative angst? A close friend recently contracted HIV due to her fascination with this program. She crossed the thin line of reality in to fantasy by following some of the characters on this show. I must say her biggest regret is that she let her traditional values go to the wayside. Now she becomes upset when she opens her closet to over priced heels, bags, and dresses....a pure waste of money and life.

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ummmmm....your friend contracted HIV due to her fascination with SATC?. That is horrible for your friend and my heart goes out to her, but you cant seriously be holding a TV show responsible for your friends personal lifestyle choices? She contracted HIV from unprotected sex. Nowhere on SATC does it promote unsafe sex. I dont think anyone bashing the show has actually watched it. That is the ultimate in ignorance. I respect anothers opinion, as long as it is educated. BTW, I just saw the movie, it was Fabulous! Everything I expected and much much more. 4 stars.

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I've lived in NYC for over 20 years. I've also done production work for the show. I don't know anyone here who watches it. Hope that says something about its content/quality.

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When people start using a TV show as a guide book for how to run their lives then I would have to say that they are about as shallow as the characters on the tube....

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fine fine, same league as Friends (which I enjoyed), but in a slightly more unique situation to a degree that I just couldn't force myself to watch.

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****Any show with Sex in the title has a bigger audience than Ben Casey, or reruns of Law and Order.

It also affects the minds of younger people who can't distinguish reality from allegory.

If some idoru were to eat fecal matter it would become a hot item in the market.

Sorry to be a realist but I'm glad I'm an old bastard who won't have to live with the next generation. On another note, I won't have to see Hillary back in the white house; or is that Whitehouse? (Senile Dementia!)

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KaptainKichigai, I don't hold the show responsible but my friend feels as though she crossed the fantasy line in trying to live like the characters in the program. As for the show I watched the first episode and was let down since it is just chewing gum for the eyes. I must say that I am rather happy that there are no women around me who act in such a manner as they do on the show. Overall, I think it is leading women in the wrong direction.....WTF.

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I don't see what could be liberating about imitating a product that has been marketed to manipulate you. What is liberating about mimicking middle-aged alcoholics who spend money on material goods and seem to have nothing but surface relationships?

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For those people who seem to be drawing an inordinate number of parallels between the show and real life perhaps we should keep in mind that some screen writer in a condo in NY wrote the lines to this "show" and now people are trying to emulate it?

Perhaps we should turn off the TV and get some fresh air along with a healthy dose of reality? Or perhaps it is an escape from reality that the avid watchers are looking for.

If I wanted to escape from reality would I choose a character from SATC?

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Sex and the City is just another boring American trash TV program, which is influencing people who waste their time watching it in a harmful way. It is the product of a very sick society.

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Sure, Realist, but why did it take you five seasons of watching it to realize this? ;)

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