I went on Saturday to the opening day of the new movie, “My Darling is a Foreigner“, a mostly Japanese-language film of the best-selling manga comic series by Saori Ogura, featuring Ms Ogura and her husband Tony Laszlo, and their life together as an international couple in Japan. I’ve read most of the books (there’s even an English translation out now) so I went with high hopes.

The co-stars are Mao Inoue and Jonathan Sherr, who seem to have been cast on the basis of one having a beard and the other one for looking cute. The movie centres on their road from their first meeting to the proposal, but during the 100 minutes of the film precious little of note actually happens. The real Ms Ogura (and her character in the book) is a strong-willed woman not shy to express her emotions physically, but dear Mao chan can hardly say boo to a goose; indeed the one time she gets past the pouting stage the movie cuts to an animated scene from the book of Ms Ogura drop-kicking Mr Laszlo.

There was a scene in a conveyer-belt sushi restaurant with Mr Sherr and three other foreigners discussing Japanese women that raised a smile, as one was a self-confessed Charisma Man, although sadly he didn’t use that phrase. However, it was only half a smile, as the production values and acting in that scene were on a par with the best that an NHK English educational program can muster. About my only other smile was a scene in a movie theatre that baffled my wife, and probably most of the other Japanese watching – Mr Sherr laughed, then about two seconds later all the Japanese around him laughed. For the real audience, the biggest belly-laugh came when Mr Sherr did a Bobby Ologun act – even after establishing very early in the story that he is pretty much fluent in Japanese, going as far as studying classical grammar – when talking to his to-be (well, not-to-be as it turned out) father-in-law he wanted to use the very basic phrase “kibun tenkan” but instead hammed around “kibun tenken … kanten … tenkan”.

The last straw for me came in the build-up to the final scene – after finding the only native Brooklynite taxi driver in all New York, Saori found Tony wistfully watching a wedding coming out of a church they hug and, just to make sure you don’t miss the hint, the bride tosses the bouquet and the slow-motion following of the flight cuts back to the two of them hugging.

To top it all, along with noticing a rather prominent and recognisable bottle of fabric softener in a few scenes, we all got treated to a list of sponsors a mile long in the credits, which made me feel I should have been paid to watch.

Even my wife disliked the whole movie. Save your money and buy one or two of the books instead.


14 Comments

Gen Kanai · April 12, 2010 at 06:15

Thanks for the review Ken. I’ve met Tony and so had some thoughts to see the movie but clearly the movie is not worth our time or money. I’ll stay away.

Cathy · May 4, 2010 at 05:47

I saw the trailer and suspected as much. Thanks for saving me the trouble of watching the film – great review!

mb · August 4, 2010 at 17:30

And wasn’t it strange that this guy Tony who is ultra fluent in Japanese and very wise in the ways of the culture had no
concept of Japanese humor (like at Saori’s sister’s wedding). Or maybe Tony is one of those dull foreigners who expect to pick up a Japanese girl just because he is fluent in Japanese—Guys it’s not that difficult. A great personality (which Tony lacks) can always trump not being fluent. Here’s a secret-
Japanese women can speak English==and many quite well.
The only way that a foreigner could speak that fluently with all the proper gestures is if he were born half Japanese. In other words, the movie’s message might be that interracial couples should be made up of a foreigner already half-Japanese. I was extremely surprised when he brought his girl to the US and his family was made up of only caucasians.
The film could have been much more realistic. The “Charisma Man” would very rarely make negative comments to a Japanese local Saori (the
opening party scene)–He’d be trying to pick her up.
Also, what was Tony’s job–besides western playboy?
Also, it was totally amazing that Tony had absolutely embraced everything and everything about Japan when not even the Japanese feel that way
about Japan. Let’s imagine an American perspective: Japanese comes to America and eats only hot dogs and watches baseball and
eats appple pie–loving every minute of it and wondering why he/she was ever born Japanese. Would anyone believe that?
In addition, the patrick harlan cameo as the english tutor was equally offensive if not absurd. Again, an American view: Japanese girl comes to America
and wants to learn baseball—-from Derek Jeter!… Everyone in Japan knows PH and must be wondering how an average Japanese could have him as a tutor. It did remind me of “Back to School” when Rodney Dangerfield had Kurt Vonnegut write his book report.
Personally, I really don’t see why Tony would be attractive to any Japanese girl in the first place. The movie tends to claim that the only way foreigners and Japanese women get along is if the foreigner is fluent. Too bad you guys who didn’t become fluent in Japanese in college. Oh and too bad to you guys who thought you were fluent. If you can’s speak Kansai dialect you might as well be illiterate. The problem with that scene when Tony is trying to ask directions on the street (i guess it was osaka-but in the rest of the movie no one else speaks with an osaka dialect) is that it insults Osaka people who are fun loving and easy going. The Osaka person is rude and uppity because tony is speaking tokyo dialelct-which most Osakans can speak anyway.
If I had never been to and lived in Japan and saw this movie, I would be completely crushed. I would be left thinking Japan as being xenophobic (in the cities????) and that I would have to have been a scholar in the Japanese language and culture, and have a complete lack of personality and character in order to meet women in Japan. The fact is I’m now happiy married to a women from Japan and I do strange things (do the dishes, clean the bathroom, swear in traffic) and guess what–she does strange things too (the movie tends to forget this)–eats fermented bean curd, puts seaweed on everything. And one more clue for you guys if you’re worried about how you’ll ever master Japanese: once more–keep this a secret–Japanese women can speak English—-And my wife is incredibly fluent–in fact its a lot eastier to communicate in English.
Finally, I still can’t figure out why the Saori’s father didn’t approve of the marriage. The reason in the film was because he was afraid they would live as a married couple in the US. What????? Tony loves Japan more than his own mother! And this is displayed throughout the film. The idea that they would live anywhere but Japan sounds absurd to any clear thinking movie goer.

Eamon de Valera · September 4, 2010 at 13:20

I saw this movie, it was cute but also had a lot of silly things, and many things that just did not make sense, plus, the obligatory making fun of of how dumb foreigners are. Fortunately, Westerners are not as sensitive to these things as most Asians are, so my reaction was simply “that’s dumb,” rather than to be offended.

First, the main character speaks exceedingly proficient Japanese, and so must have lived in Japan for quite some time and studied very diligently. And yet, he is shown throughout the film to have not a clue about Japanese culture and be totally unaware of basic cultural differences. This makes no sense. He also does dumb things that are not cultural gaffs, in that they are not things a Westerner might do unaware that it was inconsistent with Japanese culture. For example, he takes his girlfriend to a party where every single other guest is foreign, then ignores her for hours. In America, I would not take a date to a party where she knew no one, not introduce her to anyone and ignore her for hours, and this guy is otherwise quite considerate.

He is also shown to be “trying” to become a better future husband, by doing laundry and washing the dishes, which of course he proves to be hopeless at, being both a foreigner and a man. It made me wonder: He’d been living on his own for years before he met the Japanese girlfriend, how did he manage dishes and laundry before that? One thing he did was wash the dishes and leave the soap on when he put them up to dry: People in England do this, but Americans usually rinse off the soap after cleaning (this guy is supposedly American). Then there are vignettes of dumb things Japanese girlfriends’ foreign guys do, like putting Tobasco sauce in beer (I’ve been a gaijin all my life, I’ve never heard of that – anyone?). One guy brought white flowers to his girlfriend, OK, he would not have known those are used for funerals (the US postal service put white flowers on Chinese new year stamps in 2009, same thing: Chinese would be mortified by this, white being the color of death and white flowers for funerals only, really, really bad luck especially at the start of the new year).

Aside from that, it was a cute little film with some moderate insight into the ins and outs of cross-cultural relationships, moderate, very moderate and superficial ones, but I guess the film was meant to be a light-hearted comedy. Interesting that the Japanese girl is convinced the boyfriend’s family will not accept her because she is Japanese, when in fact it’s her family that does not accept the gaijin guy. She also totally takes for granted the stuff he does for her, like washing and making her tea, stuff no Japanese guy would do but instead of being happy she complains he does it all wrong.

But if you are interested in Japan and Japanese culture, you may find this amusing, as I did.

Jake · October 26, 2010 at 01:49

@ Eamon de Valera

> Fortunately, Westerners are not
> as sensitive to these things as
> most Asians are

Nice… any more generalizations and stereotypes?

Matsuko · November 1, 2010 at 02:31

Wow. Why are people hating on this film so much? It was a cute romantic flick. I liked it. :s I didn’t like tony so much, mainly I don’t like beards, but he acted ok, and I thought inoue san did a nice job. Whats all this over critical stuff? If you don’t like simple romance movies, then don’t watch this. All these people making long comments about how it’s unrealistic..xenophobic.. dumb, blah blah. It’s a movie, not reality. Just have fun!

random · February 6, 2011 at 15:26

Wow.. O.o.. lol

I cant believe how personal some people are taking the movie lol Even its its not a good film, just take it easy. I really wonder if some people Watch? any movies at all.

Jim · March 5, 2011 at 00:20

I think the criticisms of this film are misguided. I usually cringe at treatments of foreigners and “international couples” in movies and tv. I was ready to dislike this one too. But the characters, being based on real people, come off as individuals, not stereotypes. They are quirky and unique. I thought it was a rather refreshing take on the topic.

As far as some romantic comedy cliches, and some sappy moments, well that’s why its a romcom, or chick flick. Normally I don’t prefer them because they are sentimental and sappy. But the audience is presumably female so I’m guessing they like that. Grousing about a romcom being too romcommy is a little silly, no?

People complaining about this film are engaging in a knee-jerk reaction. It’s not bashing anyone, not full of stereotypes, unless the “ambitious manga gf” and “quiet language-lover bf who is fluent in japanese” is a stereotype I’ve missed. The movie is fine. It’s probably even a step forward for more down to earth treatment, and surprisingly non-negative portrayal, of intercultural marriages.

rg · July 24, 2011 at 19:01

Ya know – this movie isn’t terrible, but there are some SERIOUSLY annoyances.
The books are great. My japanese girlfriend both enjoyed them thoroughly because they are hilariously accurate at some points- though I must say that sometimes its a little stereotypical, and sometimes its just because hes a guy, not a foreigner…..but still entertaining manga!

So I watched the movie hoping it would be like the Manga in spirit and environment. However, it was totally different.
What the people said above is true, and I feel the same way. I graduated with a B.A in Japanese. I wasn’t the 100% best student in the world, but I was still in the top 10% of my class and lived in Japan for a year. The Japanese language is very difficult; Tony sounded and spoke like he had lived there for years. His accent was extremely good as if he had a Japanese parent or learned Japanese from a young age. Though I have met a couple non Japanese that have perfected there accents really well…few and far between 🙂
So because of that, I must share the gripe that he seems to be so oblivious about certain aspects of Japanese culture. You learn that too. Noone develops an amazing accent, comprehension, reading and writing ability including classical without learning about the culture and interacting with….people….

My main gripe is how sometimes I felt like the movie was just reenforcing stereotypes the entire time. Like the dick Japanese guy that wouldnt talk to him because he didnt speak english (which totally happens, sadly), and the douchy American that told her to study English (wtf who does that while living in Japan?)
Also, I have to agree in saying the girl got turned into someone she isn’t. Shes not the stereotypical shy japanese girl and Tony isnt some guy that leaves her at a party for hours and hours and ignored her like a goober.
The characters are supposed to be fun and quirky, but they got the quirks all wrong and contradictory.

This movie was a huge disappointment….please go read the books and laugh away! This movie sucked

rg · July 24, 2011 at 19:02

by the way, pardon my bad typos…….im typing on a laptop at a really bad angle and im far too lazy to use the shift key or go back and change things ;d

rg · July 24, 2011 at 19:10

I must make one last comment in saying..

Do you guys ever notice that if we did a lot of things that Japan did in America, we would be in very big trouble?
Can you imagine the feminist movement against the changing on the main character to some stereotypical passive Japanese helpless girl, or the idea that dating someone from a different cultural is so crazy that a movie is made about it. I know its been done and all….just sometimes I think when I see those commercials of foreigners trying to talk Japanese (think it was mcdonalds)….I cant imagine if we threw a Japanese girl on american tv and made her close her eyes and make a peace sign and go “OHHH YESSS I RIKE YUU BERY MUCHH” that we wouldn’t get flack for that….just in…rebuttal to the Americans not being so sensitive thing….the Japanese cultural in general is just a little more racist. Its not big secret. Most of them know racism is bad and most of them dont hate white people….but some of the racist things they do they just dont really see as racist as much as just pointing out what they see often (stereotypes). I think that makes us more sensitive. Or them not sensitive enough. who knows

International couples promote “My Darling is a Foreigner” | Japan Probe · April 12, 2010 at 10:19

[…] please wait before spending money on a movie ticket – reviews by Ken Y-N at What Japan Thinks and a reader of MutantFrog warn that the film is pretty crappy. Apparently it is a cheaply produced […]

"Darling" Considered Harmful | Tepido.org - Not the Hokkaido Crusader · September 22, 2010 at 01:06

[…] taste due to the overused stereotype, we get the cryptic comment: – Oh yes, then we get to DWG [Darling wa Gaikokujin]. Plenty of NJ who should know better even think that the manga works in their best […]

Best live-action movie adaptations of anime or manga | 世論 What Japan Thinks · September 25, 2011 at 21:55

[…] it doesn’t feature in the list. On the other hand, I am not in the least suprised to see that My Darling is a Foriegner features nowhere on the […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: