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Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Love Stories: the five rules


All is fair in love and war, but still there are rules. At least -- according to a romance-reading colleague -- there are rules in love stories.

You know -- in the slasher sendoff film "Scream," nerdy Randy Meeks (played by Jamie Kennedy) sets down the rules for horror movies. Such as: You won't survive if you have sex, do drugs or drink, or are dumb enough to pronounce, "I'll be right back."

What's more, when confronted with a strange noise, you must never ask, "Who's there?" Or -- heaven forbid -- step outside to investigate.

In a similar fashion, my colleague claims there are rules for love stories, as taught by romance novels and -- perhaps especially -- films.

Important? Well, a 2003 Harris Poll states teenage girls learn more about love from movies than any other source outside friends -- much more than from family or school. Forty-six percent, in fact, look to film as a key instructor for relationships.

That's in the States. I'd be willing to bet the figure is higher in Japan, where cute is king. Nothing -- not Minnie Mouse, not Bettie Boop, nor even Hello Kitty -- will boost a young girl's cute index more than a romantic movie. Why else do you think Audrey Hepburn is still a force in Japanese advertising years after her death and a whole half century after "Roman Holiday," a film that some women here can quote line by line? The reason is because Japanese girls love love stories.

And there are rules that the good ones must follow.

"So -- according to the rules -- how do we rate?"

The speaker is my wife, raising a question about which any couple might wonder. Here, then, are the Love Story Rules and our personal tally.

* Rule 1: Between the couple lies a social chasm, a gap of extremes that makes their successful pairing unlikely. Think "Roman Holiday" with Princess Ann and out-of-luck Joe Bradley, or Julia Roberts as a hooker falling for her millionaire john, Richard Gere, in "Pretty Woman."

"Score one for us," says my wife. "Classy Japanese girl and gutter-mouthed American guy. It's a perfect fit."

I must agree -- although I see it more as a sophisticated man of the world meeting a Bumpkin Betty of the rice fields.

Odds are this rule holds true for most intercultural marriages where the mystery of the other land and the binding of language create an automatic gap, one magnified by miles and miles of separated backgrounds.

* Rule 2: The couple must flounder about out of step in regards to their feelings, until -- a la Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in "The Sound of Music" -- they reach some climactic breakthrough. From then on, the rest of the love plot is predictable.

Lack of communication is again built-in to most Japanese-foreigner relationships where language often fails. The romance may turn at first not with words at all but rather with a flutter of eyes or a slow release of breath. The words bumble out later.

And us?

"You asked me to marry you in 10 minutes."

Not true. I believe it took three dates, at least, but all the years have muddled my memory. For example, two grown kids and a fat mortgage later, I can't recall if she ever answered, "Yes."

* Rule 3: The couple meet adversity, often related to the gap between them. Whether the story ends happily -- like in "Aladdin" -- or bittersweet -- as in "Roman Holiday" -- depends on how the couple handles this adversity.

Maybe I proposed on our third date and maybe it was later. Regardless, my wife's mother -- who later lived with us for 10 years -- fought our union the way the Japanese fought World War II. She gave up only after a tooth-and-nail struggle. Add in language and cultural clutter and I'd say we, and most such couples, have had to put up with more than our share of adversity.

* Rule 4: Purity! The cinema couples must be pure in heart, so much that they would surrender their love or even their life for their partner. Think Leonardo DiCaprio sinking into the frigid North Atlantic. He and the Titanic are gone, but his love for Rose -- as well as her life -- is buoyed by the purity of his sacrifice.

"That's me," my wife says. " 'Purity' and 'Sacrifice' were my middle names."

"Me too. I bet I could have frozen to death as well as Leo did."

Just then we hear a strange noise outside. We eye each other and then she swallows and speaks.

"Why don't you go investigate? But first you'd better ask, 'Who's there?' "

"No, no, you go," I tell her. "I'm sure you'll be right back."

A nifty Randy Meeks segue which brings us to the fifth and final rule for love stories--

* Rule 5: Humor. The couple can't just fall in love; they have to slip on a few banana peels along the way -- slippery skins that pave a slapstick path to romance.

Notice a happy ending is not one of the rules. My love story colleague -- like most Japanese -- doesn't think that's necessary. What a relief, huh?

So in the end, we hit three out of five. Not bad.

"No, we got four! Don't forget purity!"

Uh, OK. Four out of five. I suppose I can grant one extra point for humor.



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