On Sunday, before brining Buttercup into the family, Jun and I went to see a movie called ダーリンは外国人(My Darling is a Foreigner). The English title, which I think is terrible and totally misses the point of the novel, is “Is he Turning Japanese?” The movie is based on a comic book series written and illustrated by Saori Oguri. The books tell various stories about her and her American half-Hungarian half-Italian language loving husband, Tony Laszlo, as then encounter and overcome cultural misunderstandings and barriers. Her series has sold over 2 million copies and snippets have (although I have not seen them) on inside the JR trains in Tokyo.
The book is told through humor, so some very serious culture differences are brought to the reader’s attention in a light hearted way but without going unnoticed. Jun actually bought me the first book prior to us going to see the movie and I burst out laughing on more than one occasion. Some of the stories I just had to have him read because Jun and I either experienced the exact same thing or had something very similar happen to us. Saori really managed to catch a lot of small, but significant, differences and quirks with multicultural relationships without being biased towards one culture or the other – at least in my opinion.
Saori and Tony actually met when she auditioned for a staff position in a theatrical production Tony was organizing back in 1995 – an episode that is illustrated in the book and presented in a very funny light in the film. In the film version, she is still seeking a job under Tony, but as an illustrator. They actually meet on the train, when Tony is fast asleep and mouth open, and Saori sketches him in her portfolio. She then gives that to Tony at the interview and the two instantly recognize that they met on the train. It was pretty cute. This does not happen in the book, but the situation is still cute. Rumor is that Tony has never read any of the books cover to cover (despite it being said that he translated the English version of the books himself) because he doesn’t want him reading what his wife writes to influence the way they live together. I also read somewhere that he was a little embarrassed about how naïve he appears in the books.
Some people bash the books saying the Saori is being too superficial and confusing some aspects of married life with cultural differences, but I don’t really agree with that at all. Of course, there are differences between the way the two do things because they come from different cultures, but some of the differences simply because they were brought up differently – something that Saori deals with in her books. It is also addressed in the film. At one point, Saori says that things would be simpler and definitely work out if she was with a Japanese man instead of Tony. Her mother then explains to her that that is not the case. In Saori’s family, they always had bread and miso soup for breakfast. Her mother grew up having fancy Western style breakfasts while the father had a more traditional Japanese breakfast. When she would cook and do her best to make a fancy Western breakfast for the father, he ate it, but was just putting up with it for a long time before he finally couldn’t take it anymore and asked for her to at least include miso soup at breakfast. Naturally, a lot of the situations explained in the book revolve around the fact that Tony is not Japanese and doesn’t totally understand Japanese culture and customs, but I think Saori is also trying to show us that these types of things can happen to anyone. Even if a situation in the book is just illustrating the differences between American and Japanese culture, there is still some lesson learned that all couples, married or not, can learn from.
No matter how someone may criticize Saori’s work, one cannot deny that is makes spot-on observations of how illogical xenophobia can be (especially in Japan). Some examples from the film (and book) are when Tony stops a passerby to ask for directions in perfect Japanese, the man recoils in terror, insisting that he cannot understand English. Tony tells him that it is OK because he can speak Japanese, the man refuses to listen and keeps saying that he doesn’t know any English. When Tony rephrases his question in Kansai dialect, the man at once enthusiastically points out the way. Less intentional but equally ludicrous, Saori’s parents cannot tell Tony and the priest apart at Saori’s older sister’s wedding. Likewise, Tony has his share of misunderstandings when dealing with Japanese. My favorite example is when he hears Saori’s mother talk to her future son-in-law about his soon bride to be. She asks him if it is really OK for him to want to spend the rest of his life with a lazy girl. The brother chimes in and says that he cannot think of a single thing good about his sister. Tony, who is appalled by this, jumps in and exclaims that he cannot understand why they are treating their family so cruelly as there are so many wonderful things about the sister, and his lists several of them. Thankfully, everyone explodes into laughter and have to explain to him that it is a part of Japanese culture to be modest and not build yourself or your own family up.
While the books are just a collection of anecdotes, the movie takes these and creates a plot in which Saori’s family is originally against her dating Tony simply because he is a foreigner. However, it soon becomes her father that is the only one totally against their relationship and tells Soari that he will never be able to approve of their relationship. Not wanting to tell this to Tony, Soari keeps all the pain to herself and causes her lots and lots of stress. This stress is intensified in her attempt to get her work published as a comic book artist. After a tragic accident, Saori becomes totally consumed by her work and she reaches her boiling point. As a result, her relationship with Tony suffers and she begins to question whether their relationship could possibly work out. Whatever will happen?! (although, I am sure you all know that this will be a happy ending, right?)
Here is the trailer to the movie:
I don’t know if this film will every make it to the States, or anywhere outside of Japan for that matter, but I really enjoyed the movie. If I am able to find it online, I will post a link here (or your could attempt to find it for yourself).I believe you can buy the books on Amazon. I highly recommend them both.