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Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
Quiet on the set. Ready . . . Action!
"All I need is the backing," says the man. "Then I've got a surefire hit."
Who the guy is I have no idea. We had struck up a conversation on the train, and when he found out that I write for what I have the cheekiness to call "a living," he told me he has a film script.
I say I am not that kind of a writer. I have a far closer connection to silverfish than the silver screen. But he doesn't hear me or see me. For the stars in his eyes have blinded him.
"Oh, it's a great story, packed with action, romance, intrigue. Some producer is bound to snatch it up. I just need someone give it a read and invest, and then I'm set."
I wave the stars from his eyes, like so many flies, and say: "I bet the hero is some foreign guy -- like you -- only he's a spy or a cop or a corporate whistle-blower, and the heroine is some Japanese girl who is so cute she could stop a locomotive with a single wink. He can't speak Japanese, so he ropes in the girl, who besides being beautiful just happens to be fluent in English, and they combine forces to stop the bad guys from blowing up the world. Along the way they struggle through various cultural snags, all of them comical, which cause them to fall hopelessly in love."
For a few seconds all I get is blinks. Then he says: "No, that's not it. Not it at all."
"Sorry. I left out the ninjas."
He blinks faster and then excuses himself at the next stop. Later I tell the tale to a good friend over lunch.
"Oh, what a silly idea for a movie," she says. "Now, my script is much, much better. You see, there's this foreign girl who has come to Japan."
"Sort of like you?"
"Well, yes, only she looks more like Reese Witherspoon."
"And she meets some handsome hunk who looks like Ken Watanabe?"
"Exactly! He's her karate teacher, see, and he's really cool and says pithy things like, 'I get my kicks from karate' and so on. And he figures the girl is all California fluff, but in the big karate match she knocks everybody out, including him."
"In a comical, cultural sort of way, which causes him to fall hopelessly in love."
"Exactly! But his family opposes her, so she has to prove she's got the right stuff to be a Japanese bride. She almost quits and so does he, but in the end they hang on together."
At that point, she stops and takes a memo. While I take the check.
Maybe it's a side effect of video addiction, but I have more than a few foreign friends and acquaintances who enjoy musing that Hollywood might one day take an interest in their lives -- or a reasonable facsimile of their lives.
Or perhaps this is because they have indeed experienced adventures. From improbable backgrounds they have somehow found their way to Japan, where -- against the tides of culture, language and circumstance -- they have survived to build careers and families. Some story lines are truly dramatic, both ribbed with comedy and throbbing with romance. And sure, some have fizzled into loss and bitterness. But many more, I believe, have endured to find happy endings.
Enough to make some such characters think they have a story worth telling. And that other people might watch.
"OK," I tell my wife. "In our movie, what actor should play me?"
She ponders a moment and then brightens when she finds the answer: "John Candy!"
"John Candy?" I do a double take. "But isn't he too fat?"
"I was thinking more like Schwarzenegger. When the actress playing your mom asks me to leave the house, he can thrust out his chin and tell her . . . you know."
" 'Hasta la vista, baby?' "
"No. . . . 'I'll be back.' "
"Well, so far the dialogue is crackling!"
I nod. "I just hope he can handle the Japanese."
"That's a problem," she says. "But given a capable speech coach he might be able to butcher it just like you. Or even better!"
"Now," I ask, "who should play you?"
This is indeed a conundrum. The actress must be petite, refined and speak clear English.
After some thought, I offer . . . "Audrey Hepburn?"
She shakes her head. "Candy and Hepburn might make a fine team in heaven, but when you've got to portray a Japanese girl on Earth, how can you beat a Chinese actress? So I say Ziyi Zhang!"
That resolved, I move to the scene where we meet.
"It's spring and the cherries are in full bloom. Arnold marches down the street carrying a grenade launcher. He hears a cry and looks up to see Ziyi being harassed by wild ninjas on motorcycles."
A pause. "That's not quite how I remember it."
"What? There was a street. I'm 100 percent sure. The rest is theatrical license."
"But the cherries were not in bloom."
"So? Haven't you heard of CGI? We can fake it."
Now, isn't that the magic of movies? For the sake of entertainment, anything goes.
Meanwhile, in real life we struggle along, heroically rallying ourselves to meet those villains that don't sell so well at the box office: bills, sickness, depression, failure, loved ones lost and much more. Joseph Campbell had it right when he wrote "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." For in the adventure of life there are as many heroes as there are people.
Who doesn't have a story worth telling? Japan veteran or not, all of our lives are surefire hits. All we need is the backing to believe that ourselves.
"You are," my wife says, "an incurable romantic." And then she winks. Not cute enough to stop a train perhaps, but it sure stops me.
So we end with a cinematic moment. The only thing missing is the ninjas.
To contact Thomas Dillon, send e-mail to email@example.com