"Japan" In US & European Movies...

Let's have a bit of fun and see where this will take us. I'm sure all of you have your favourite film with a reference to Japan. In fact, there are countless. Here is my very tentative list, in no particular order:

The Tea House of the August Moon (1956) In which Marlon Brando portrays Sakini, an Okinawan who tries to work with the occupying Americans, reviving some of the island’s tradition and heritage. Pentagon-shaped school house? Not exactly what everyone wants. The local brew and suspicions regarding prostitution said to have caused quite a stir back in America. Should be watched together with:

Sayonara (1957) Again, the topic of international marriage is raised, with dire consequences for the couple who defies the US military ban on such practices. Based on a novel by James Michener. The air base is Itami near Kobe, with some great scenes from the hills of that city back in the day. Won several Academy Awards.

A decade later, it was technology that seemed to be worth mentioning...

Hogan’s Heroes Series 1 Episode 1 (1965) Hogan (Bob Crane) is showing a German infiltrator the Stalag 13 Allied prison camp’s underground production of cigarette lighters in the shape of Lugar pistols: “Hottest item in Berlin right now, of course the Japanese will copy it and undersell us, but that’s free enterprise!” (Laughs)… 

Episode 2 has Logan tell the tall French blonde female who is part of the resistance that he doesn’t care if she “puts on a kimono and goes Tokyo Rose” while a Tiger tank goes missing…

Red Dragon (1965) Providing a girl with a special bracelet for wireless communication, before sending her off to Hong Kong to solve a drama that involves stopping Communist China from getting nuclear bomb information: “This is the latest in Japan…”

You Only Live Twice (1967) "England's man in Hong Kong" James Bond goes global... and the rest is history. Sean Connory at his finest? Some of the gadgets included:

Aki's white Toyota 2000 GT convertible (with radio transmitter and closed-circuit TV monitor behind the bucket seats), Tanaka's Private Underground Train, Tanaka's 2-rotor Helicopter (with gigantic electro-magnet)

Assignment K (1967) Showing a bomb in a device, which will send a signal: “It keeps on beaming until the Japanese transistors wear out…”

File of the Golden Goose (1969) “Japanese” bath scene in London bath house with nice (more or less) Japanese interior, but the sign says “Cathay Bath” (referring to Hong Kong). “Make me a nice pot of tea…”

Foul Play (1978) Elderly Japanese couple with red-and-white Japan Airlines bags, just arrived to San Francisco, in the back of the cab that Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase drive to go (fast) to the Opera to stop the Pope from getting assassinated. Goldie Hawn can’t even get her “Sayonara” right but the couple shown having a great time throughout the mad driving scene, repeating “Kojak! Bang bang!” while waving small American flags. Cue to the Opera where The New York City Opera is shown performing Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” conducted by Dudley Moore…

But, then again, by the 1980s, the image of "Japan" was clearly changing from the comical...

Blade Runner (1982) Los Angeles by 2019 has been taken over by Asians and you get huge neon billboards and tiny origami hints... Is this the future? Note the tiles in the apartment of Deckard (Harrison Ford) - identical to those designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, in the early 1920s...

Back to the Future II (1985) famously showed how your boss by 2015 would by now be Japanese, ordering you around and firing you unless you... well, you remember. This was the era when US congressmen and senators smashed Japanese cars in front of the Capitol in Washington DC.
"McFly! I was monitoring that scan you just interfaced. You are terminated!"
—Mr. Fujitsu

Luckily, Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc saved us all, right...?

Some would call it racism, or yellowface comedy, or worse.  

Update: Tom suggests Black Rain (1989) and I can only agree, one of the best films ever that showed how Hollywood and Tokyo can make great movies, with British director Ridley Scott cutting through the cultural crap and avoiding cliches.

The Making of "Black Rain" (Japanese documentary)


Tom O said…

Tom O said…
Oh, and a Ridley Scott too, lots of it night-time - how about that!

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