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Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2000

Edward Atterton: reading for the part

Edward Atterton came to Japan at a time when he didn't know where his life was going.

"Japan was perfect for me," he says, "because this is a place for people with no direction and needing a place to hide. I didn't have to confront myself. I didn't have to ask the uncomfortable questions about who I was and what I wanted to do."

At the same time, Japan offered a facade of ambition and business success. The combination is a powerful magnet for foreigners, he says.

"You tell people that you're going to Thailand," he points out, "and they think 'Oh, you're going for drugs and naps on the beach.' But you say you're going to Japan and it sounds like business or philosophy or martial arts or all the other things the West associates with this country."

And so he came, in '84 when the economy was gearing up for Number 1 status, Seiko Matsuda was singing in a frilly pink dress and the O-Nyanko Club was the biggest pop culture phenomenon of its time. He soaked up everything, listened to Yosui Inoue, studied karate and learned the language.

"But I couldn't commit myself to the country the way other gaijins did," he says. "Many of them try so hard to be Japanese. Like you'd see two American guys standing on the street speaking Japanese to each other. That seemed really strange."

For two years, Atterton wandered the streets and wondered where to go from there. In so many ways, he shared the exact same predicament as Boku in the film.

Like Boku, Atterton met with the same Japanese cushioned rejection of aliens.

"They're extremely generous and gracious in welcoming the outsider," says Atterton. "And remember, I was a young Western male, which meant that I was in for special treatment. Everything I did was amazing. People literally applauded every time I spoke Japanese.

"But all that is really a form of rejection. It's a way of keeping distance, of separating Us and Them."

Boku, of course, runs up against a similar invisible wall.

"Still, the wall is padded," adds Atterton. "It's soft and gentle to the touch. I don't think any other culture in the world is quite so gracious in their relationships with foreigners."

Which is the reason, he thinks, that "there will always be hundreds of Bokus out there."

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