Trifecta #06: Turning Japanese…I really think so
by: Jeremey Gingrich
You can’t go out and party every weekend, so on those nights you want to take it easy, Flix66.com has put together a bi-weekly column to help you with your movie selection. The Trifecta is a recommendation of three movies that set a mood, that showcase an actor or director, that acquaint the viewer with a geographic location, or maybe even have some obscure link like a Best Boy or Key Grip.
During most of the 80’s much of our national concern was turned toward the Soviets, and while we were so focused on the Big Red Monster, an island nation – still a little peaved at the conclusion of the last World War – decided to remind the rest of the world that they still had chips in the big game. And while an in-depth study of Japanese culture in film should no doubt include at least 20 Akira Kurosawa films, for a one night trifecta it’s better to focus on how films have viewed the progression of Japan in the last three decades. So prep some sashimi appetizers and pull the kimono out of mothballs ‘cause we’re going to explore three movies on Japanese/American relations. And for the youngsters out there, “Turning Japanese” is a reference to a song by an 80’s band called The Vapors that…ah, never mind.
The actor Gedde Watanabe is best known from the 80’s as “The Donger” from SIXTEEN CANDLES, but in 1986 he starred with Michael Keaton in the auto industry comedy GUNG HO, directed by Ron Howard. Keaton made his bones in the early 80’s playing the blue-collar working man in films like NIGHT SHIFT and MR. MOM, and in this film he acts as cultural liaison of sorts to a Japanese company that buys out an American auto plant in Hadleyville, Pennylvania. The stuffed shirt Japanese come in with work ethic to shame the lazy Americans, and teamsters like George Wendt are none-too-happy about it (though it’s weird to see Norm from “Cheers” as a racist). But Keaton and Watanabe come together to forge an alliance and teach us that each culture has its faults and it’s important to see past our differences to work together…and Watanabe does a drunken impression of an elephant using only his pants.
The second leg of the trifecta is the 1993 flick RISING SUN, starring Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. Kinky sex leads to murder in a Japanese corporation in Los Angeles in this Michael Crichton novel-turned-film by director Philip Kaufman. Connery plays the wise, older cop with knowledge of Japanese culture, while Wesley Snipes pays little to no attention to the complexities of the case or the culture…little did he know only a decade later teenagers would be getting Japanese tattoos in all sorts of places to demonstrate their inner spirit. The plot has twists and turns and Connery throws that great voice at us in many monologues about Japanese pride and honor even in a corporate culture. Also, though Wesley Snipes was just getting comfortable as an action star in this role, we can see why he was chosen for his next role as Simon Phoenix in DEMOLITION MAN. Plus, Connery gets a sweet throat punch in on a Japanese tough guy, and throat punches make any movie worth while…and of course there’s the kinky sex.
For the end of the night we take it down a bit with the sweet story of two Americans in Tokyo written and directed by Sofia Coppola. LOST IN TRANSLATION earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Actor, Director and took home a statue for Best Original Screenplay in 2003. Bill Murray plays aging actor Bob Harris in town for a Japanese whiskey advertisement (Santori Time!), while Scarlett Johansson plays a young newlywed, fresh out of college and unsure of her future. The two are desperate in their situations, isolated in their Japanese hotel but when they find each other, their bond is instant and tender…no kinky sex here. The truly original facet of the story, especially in the context of this trifecta, is that even though the other two movies take place in America, this is the only one of the three without subtitles for the Japanese dialog, allowing the audience to feel just as lost and isolated as the leads. And no matter what you think Bill Murray says to Scarlett’s character at the end, I’m sure you’ll agree that The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey,” played as Murray walks away, is a great way to close out the night…even though technically we should have used the song from The Vapors…or at least Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” Domo arigato.
Length of Trifecta: 339 minutes