starring Michael Keaton
directed by Ron Howard
I recently re-watched this 1980s Michael Keaton (Mr. Mom with Teri Garr, Desperate Measures with Andy Garcia, Batman with Michel Pheiffer, Pacific Heights with Matthew Modine, plus Multiplicity, Dream Team and more) on a whim. It was about a shut-down American car plant that is bought by a Japanese auto maker in those days when the American economy was down and Japan’s was king (sort of the reverse of today’s situation). Also about the inevitable bad feelings and culture shock of the U.S.workers being asked to do things in an utterly foreign Japanese way for the first time.
Gung Ho! and other English-language movies like the World War II epic Bridge on the River Kwan (1957, with Alec Guinness) and Tora, Tora, Tora (1969 with Toshiro Mifune) use real Japanese dialogue with English subtitles. The purpose is to make the film more realistic, instead of having the non-English-speaking characters on the screen speak in accented English, often to really horrible effect. These days, whenever I watch such movies I feel terribly embarrassed because I can understand the Japanese dialogue pretty well. That allows me to hear and see in the subtitles eh mistakes in the English translation. I am also more sensitive to misunderstandings between English and Japanese speakers because I can see the set-up before it happens. I feel uncomfortable when I see a misunderstanding or mistake coming. I feel especially uncomfortable about Japanese stereotypes in English movies.
Gung Ho! was fairly successful in Ronald Reagan’s time, when the growing U.S. economic deficit with Japancaused a lot of grief leading to so-called “Japan bashing.” In fact, Michael Crichton’s book Rising Sun would have had greater success if it had appeared during he last decade instead of in the 1990s because by then the worst America-Japan trade friction had subsided. Still, the book and the movie (staring Sean Connery) were highly criticized by Japanese Americans as racists. Not by Japanese, though.
Like so much of Michael Crichton’s work Rising Sun was made as a suspense. But Gung Ho! was made as a light comedy, and I am unsure if all the little mis-communications an mistakes that I pick up because I can understand the Japanese make it funnier or not.