A lot of westerners arrive in Japan with a cocky swagger, expecting to be propelled to great success and stardom, naively wishing for instant fame, just by virtue of being an exotic foreigner. This may have been the case in the 60s, judging by the wooden white actors in the Godzilla movies, but not nowadays with thousands of tourists, business people and English teachers flying here every week.
Deluded wannabe actors and models expecting to given their own TV show upon arrival at the airport, are going to be dismally disappointed.
I must confess that I, myself, tried to dip my toes in the waters of fame, with zero results.
Despite having no acting talent whatsoever, I signed up with an agency hoping to get some work as an extra. I thought it would be a laugh to be on TV in Japan, just once or twice, the token white face in the crowd. I failed even at that humble goal! Someone pointed out to me that extras are supposed to be unobtrusive and inconspicuous, and that as a towering 6’5″ blond oaf, I’d be the worst extra ever. Nonetheless, I did get a few work offers, but I was usually too busy to go.
One day I got a call inviting me to a casting call in Tokyo. ‘An audition?’ I thought, ‘I only want to be an extra, I don’t want to get abused by a Japanese Simon Cowell.’
But, since it was my day off and I had nothing else to do, I went along just for the hell of it.
I arrived at a small studio and found my myself in a room full of assorted international misfits, fatties, skinnies, midgets and giants. Evidently they had called up all their unconventionally-sized clients to audition for some kind of humorous commercial or TV show. Perhaps they were making a new “Police Academy” film set in Japan. It was as weird a gathering of misshapen oddballs as you could imagine. I’d like to think they called me up because I’m tall, but my expanding beer-belly might qualify me for the fat category, too. ‘Hire me!- two for the price of one!’
We then had to line up and parade in front of a director who quietly assessed our suitability. It was a bit like a beauty contest but, instead of judging beauty, they were judging our novelty-value. It’s a relief that I didn’t get the gig in the end. I didn’t want to be “Mr Misshapen 2007.”
Things became more surreal when we were required to stand around wearing massive cardboard masks of members of the pop group “SMAP.” I had to pose for photos behind the huge face of singer Takuya Kimura.
Despite the absurdity of events, a lot of people there were taking it deadly seriously. One guy, a musclebound body-builder, looked incensed to see all the competition when he first arrived at the studio, and was glaring at people and flexing his mutant muscles competitively throughout the day.
Next we were all led to a local park where, for some reason, we had to have a power walking race. We were taught the rudiments of power walking by a trained instructor, then encouraged to make fools of ourselves by racing each other. It is impossible to power walk with dignity. Passers by pointed and laughed at the ridiculous spectacle of twenty funny-looking foreigners waddling like Donald Duck.
After all that madness I didn’t even get the job. A few weeks later, a friend told me she’d seen a television commercial for an estate agency featuring people power walking in SMAP masks. But I didn’t have the slightest twinge of jealously. By that point I’d lost all interest in appearing in front of a camera. Now I want to be behind the camera, cackling sadistically while I make people do stupid stuff like power walking and wearing silly masks.