I’ve had the opportunity to see the film “Big Dreams Little Tokyo” ahead of it’s release. It’s a quirky little gem of a film, written and directed by Dave Boyle, and has fun playing with cultural stereotypes.
While often in movies we see a wise-cracking American wandering around the streets of Tokyo, bemused by his wacky surroundings, “Big Dreams, Little Tokyo” turns this cliche on its head- the protagonist, Boyd (played by Boyle, himself) is a white American who desperately wants to be a Japanese businessman, and hangs out in San Jose’s Japan Town, wearing a suit and handing out business cards to anyone he can, as he tries to sell the textbook he’s written, or to sell his services as an English teacher and translator.
Much of the humour comes from Boyd’s relationship with his Japanese-American room-mate Jerome (played by a scene-stealing Jayson Watabe), an aspiring sumo wrestler who constantly eats in an attempt to gain weight. Jerome lives with Boyd in order to learn Japanese, but often gets roped into his roomie’s crack-pot business schemes.
The austere, buttoned-up Boyd is more conventionally “Japanese” than the laid-back Japanese-Americans he encounters. Many are baffled by Boyd’s oddball behaviour. One frustrated bookstore owner screams “You are not Japanese!”
In direct contrast to, say, Bill Murray in “Lost In Translation,” who feels isolated in Tokyo and seeks companionship with another Westerner, Boyd lives in California but is only into meeting Japanese folks. When asked to give a white woman Japanese lessons he hilariously responds “I don’t do white people.” Although the root of Boyd’s obsession is never clearly explained, the guy reminds me of many of the Westerners I’ve met in Japan, who avoid other Caucasians like the plague.
In fact, Westerners who live in Japan or have done in the past, will find a lot to enjoy in this movie, particularly the bilingual humour. For example, drunk Japanese pranksters trick Boyd into saying “Kesa mai-asa” (“this morning, every morning”) which sounds like “Kiss my ass!”
There are also plenty of recognizable situations, like raucous drinking sessions with sake-swilling salary-men, and Boyd’s offer of English lessons as an attempt to get to know a Japanese girl (a cute nurse played by Rachel Morihiro).
Meanwhile, native Japanese viewers will be fascinated by the surreal parallel universe that Boyle has conjured up. It’s almost like a fish-out-of-water film about a Japanese guy in America, with the Japanese guy played by an American, and the Americans played by Japanese actors.
In fact, the film is very similar in tone to recent Japanese comedies, with it’s static cameras, restrained performances and gentle, eccentric humour. For this reason, it’s probably more likely to find success in Japan than stateside. However, it may well find an audience with fans of unconventional, character-based comedies like the “Station Agent.”
Since this site’s about drinking in Japan, I’d have to say my favourite scene involved Boyd acting as a translator at a dinner meeting between obtuse Japanese businessmen and a no-nonsense Mexican factory owner. When the Mexican asks his clients why the sake cups are so small, they reply. “The smaller the cup, the more you can say ‘kampai!'” That’s one line I’ll have to remember!
Here’s a link to the “Big Dreams Little Tokyo” website