It empowered women in Asia to talk about sex and demand more from relationships like no US TV show before, writes Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. Japanese voice-over actress Yūko Nagashima was a little worried when she first took on the job of providing Carrie Bradshaw’s voice in dubbed versions of the US magnolia bakery sex and the city location phenomenon Sex and the City.
Sex, after all, was not something Japanese women discussed openly, nonchalantly, like Carrie and her friends do at any given brunch. Nagashima would go on to voice Carrie throughout the series, as well as the two film follow-ups. And Japan wasn’t the only country outside the US hungry for every bit of Sex and the City it could get. Starting around its second season on HBO in the US, in 1999, the show began airing to large, enthusiastic audiences in other countries as well: Australia, Ireland, the UK, France, Germany and Japan, among others, all happily indulged in the risqué New York City adventures of Carrie and her fellow singletons: romantic Charlotte, practical-minded Miranda and sexy Samantha. Manolo Blahnik shoes, Magnolia Bakery cupcakes and plenty of other name brands.
Sex and the City’s sense of freedom has been a particular draw for Japanese women since it was first exported there in 1999. Veronica Chambers, author of Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation, told me for my own book, Sex and the City and Us. Other trends from the show spread quickly in its Asian markets as well. Magnolia Bakery, the New York-based chain that launched the cupcake trend, expanded to Japan and South Korea, as well as several Middle Eastern countries thanks to its appearance on Sex and the City in 2000. As of last year, the Korean location still credited 70 percent of its sales to cupcakes. Even later in the 2000s, when the two Sex and the City movies came out, its independent and brash heroines continued to speak directly to Japanese women.
In Japan, the Sex and the City franchise remains at least as closely associated with womanhood as it is in the United States. Kaori Shoji wrote in a critical 2008 review of the Sex and the City movie in The Japan Times. In some other countries, including Singapore, the US version was banned. As the series began to air across the world in 1999, the conservative island kept the show from its airwaves until 2004. US, with sex scenes and expletives excised. Still, it broke down barriers, keeping some of the saucy brunch banter and gay themes intact. The show remained taboo in some regions even years later.