Valentine’s Nonsense

February 13, 2010

Valentine’s Day, like everything else, has been warped by Japan’s cultural filters like a reflection in a funhouse mirror. Here’s what I had to say about it a couple of years ago.

It is traditional for Japanese women to give chocolates to the men they love on Valentine’s Day. Ladies, if you want to make more of an impression this year, why not present your loved one with some of the seasonal chocolate beer I wrote about a couple of weeks ago? Or, even better, with this heart-shaped Domino’s pizza?

Pizza and beer are surefire shortcuts to a man’s heart.

Anyway, I’m about to lapse into a diabetic coma from all the chocolate I’ve been eating, so here, for your listening pleasure, is a tacky 80s song called “Valentine’s Kiss”, sung by women in swimsuits.

And here are some amusingly dated chocolate commercials starring Japanese pop stars.

White on Rice

February 2, 2010

I’ve had a chance to see a preview of the new film, “White on Rice”, which will be shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival in March.
The latest offering by Dave Boyle, the U.S-based Japanophile who directed “Big Dreams Little Tokyo” in 2006, “White on Rice” is another warm and quirky comedy.
The story is about the romantic misadventures of Jimmy, a hapless ex-pat from Japan, reduced to living with his sister in America after a divorce, and trying to date the local ladies. Jimmy has to put up with a disapproving brother-in-law, and having to share a bunkbed with his 10-year old nephew (who is cleverer than he is.) When his brother in law’s beautiful niece moves in to stay, Jimmy is besotted, but has to compete for her affections with his handsome workmate, Tim (played by James Kyson Lee from “Heroes”.)

Hiroshi Watanabe (“Letters from Iwo Jima”) gives a endearingly goofy turn as the dopey Jimmy, and Mio Takada and Nae give solid support as Jimmy’s ill-suffering hosts. Lynn Chen as the object of Jimmy’s desires is way too young and sexy to ever be a possible match for him, (he’s definitely out of his league) but I suppose this makes his misguided pursuit all the more more awkward and funny.

Sitting in Japan, watching an American movie with mostly Japanese dialogue was initially discombobulating, but at least it’s a novel direction to take. Dave Boyle is the only Western film-maker I can think of who seems to have been influenced by Japanese romantic comedies (as opposed to Japanese anime/horror). It’s refreshing to see well-rounded Asian characters in a US film who aren’t the usual stereotypes; and hopefully Boyle’s movie will inspire American Asians to pick up the cameras themselves more often (picking up cameras offscreen rather than onscreen, as it were.)
Overall a fun, charming, and slightly odd film, with a winning performance from Watanabe.

Here’s the movies’s website: