Wednesday, September 15, 2010

日本映画: ゴテンダ ですか? Sideways Re-envisioned Nihon-jin Style

Here’s a new film where an actor who is engaged and about to be married joins up with an old wine affectionado friend for a one last blast tour before getting married in the California Wine Country. But before you do a double take and spit up your Chardonnay you will know that sounds an awfully a lot like 2004’s “Sideways” starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, the lovely Virginia Madsen, and that oh so Sandra Oh! That's because it is the script from Sideways! OK, well not quite. You'll just have to read on or watch the movie. What we have is 2009’s Fuji TV’s Japanese Sideways (Sidaweizo) shot entirely in California’s Napa Valley with a Japanese Cast starring Oscar nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi of Babel as Mina Parker (in the Sandra Oh character minus motorcycle helmet) Fumiyo Kohinata as Michio Saito (Giamatti’s character Miles) Katsuhisa Namase as Daisuke Uehara (Hayden’s Jack Cole), and Kyoka Suzuki in her first American comedic role  as Mayuko Tanaka who is better known for her work on Otoko Tachi No Yamato and Sengoku Jieitai 1549.

It’s not all so uncommon for American films to remake foreign films for American Audiences like The Vanishing, or my dreaded upcoming 47 Ronin remake with Keanu Reeves, and dare I say a little film I starred in with Robin William & Billy Crystal called Father’s Day. But this is something entirely different. Rather than make a shot by shot remake, Fuji TV loosely adapted the story and the characters which make for a totally different take from the original film. For starters Saito-San (Miles) is not the bitter divorced unpublished writer. Instead his girlfriend has recently moved out and instead of anger he has given into the system by becoming the teacher at a school that teaches screen play writing. OK, it’s still similar to the original character but with a different personality. Michio does not share Mile’s anger but does share his love for wine.

Now if you saw the original Sideways, you’ll remember the larger than life soap opera star character Jack Cole. His Japanese counterpart is the former star of a silly kids TV Action show called Captain Ninja whose catch phrase Goten-da!(Got it!) sticks in your head and has you saying it along with the characters on screen. This leads to some entertaining situations such as the hilarious scene where Daisuke rushes a pharmacy to buy condoms and gets instantly recognized as Captain Ninja by kids in the store and has to run out in embarrassment.

I don’t want to spoil the entire movie for you. The frame work of the original is all here but the plot twists and character differences make this an entirely different film. One Blogger went as far to suggest that something may be lost in translation. We’ll, to a degree one could say that if you are not familiar with Japanese people. But if you are then there is nothing to be explained that you don’t already know such as the corporate culture, overcrowding, customs, etc. What may not be so explained is the cultural differences which ultimately define the characters from their original counterparts as well as the direction of the plot’s resolution.

Fuji TV’s Sidaweizo is indeed a unique adaptation of Alexander Payne’s Sideways. Shot under three million on location in Napa Valley, “Japanese Sideways” features mostly Japanese actors and in Japanese. Paul Giamatti was offered a cameo role but turned it down on the grounds his career had not sunk low enough. Truly something was lost in translation here. I feel he was being a little unfair in dismissing the project and for describing actor Fumiyo Kohinata as an “Ugly Little Troll” playing his part (like Paul could really win any beauty contests - seriously!).
As much as I like Paul Giamatti as an actor I have to respectfully disagree. Kohinata was perfectly cast as a 40 something whose dreams of being a screenwriter had been reduced to giving into the system and becoming an insignificant teacher that has gone out of business due to a corruption scandal. Anyone familiar with NOVA in Japan would be familiar with this. His only unspoiled loves are his love of wine and his one time affection for Mayuko without the snobbery of the original Miles and his distaste for Merlot. This film premiered at the Napa Festival, it also premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Hawaii Film Festival. If you are a fan of the original you may find this a bit bizarre but if you can see past Giamatti’s pass on the film you may find it delightful.

So please enjoy and make like Captain Ninja: Goten-da!