The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958) Movie Synopsis

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In John Huston‘s The Barbarian and the Geisha, President Pierce sends Townsend Harris (John Wayne) to Japan in 1856 to serve as their first U.S. Consul-General. His translator, Huesken, accompanies him to the town of Shimoda.

However, the Japanese governor denies him official status. While Harris believes he should be present whenever either country requires him, the governor believes he’s needed only when both countries require him.

Despite this, the Japanese permit Harris to remain in Shimoda, but only as a private citizen; not as a consul. They give him an abandoned home to live in, and in the following weeks, they shower Harris with hostility and distrust. The locals won’t even let him buy food.

Because xenophobia is rampant, they do not let Harris leave Shimoda or travel to the capitol of Edo.

Harris does his best to represent America well, and cooperates with his hosts. This gets him in good graces with the Governor, and they give him a geisha named Okichi. She teaches him many things about the Japanese culture, but Harris screws up on a big scale which leads to a cholera epidemic and the destruction of Shimoda.

Eventually though, Harris travels to Edo to convince the Japanese leaders to open the country to the United States.

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