The Ups and Downs of International Marriage
I have to confess upfront about my complete bias regarding this movie: My wife is Japanese, and we both love Oguri Saori’s comic “My Darling is a Foreigner” (Japanese title “Darling wa gaikokujin.”) In fact, it took us awhile to get around to watching this movie adaptation because we were afraid they would make a mess of it. I shouldn’t have worried. First-time director Ue Kazuaki took the source material and made a sweet little love comedy.
Instead of working directly from the comic, the story starts with Saori (Inoue Mao, Kaidan) and Tony (Jonathon Sherr) on their third date. Saori is unsure of her status with Tony, and while the two of them are happy together, they struggle to fit into each other’s worlds. Tony is bilingual, and can float between Japanese and English speakers, but Saori is isolated by her language ability and cannot communicate with Tony’s friends. Saori’s parents don’t know what to make of Tony. He is fluent in the Japanese language, but not in Japanese manners and customs. Saori’s father (Kunimura Jun, K-20: The Fiend With Twenty Faces, Ichi the Killer) is opposed to the match, but Tony and Saori decide they love each other enough to endure the struggles and misunderstandings of a cross-culture relationship. Meanwhile, Saori is also struggling to fulfill her dream of becoming a comic writer, while Tony has to learn the expectations put on him as Saori’s boyfriend, and what his role is in Japanese society.
What I loved about “My Darling is a Foreigner” is what they got right, not only in Saori and Tony’s relationship but what it is like being a foreigner in Japan. I loved the scene in the movie theater where Tony is laughing first, and the Japanese audience laughs a few seconds later. I have lived that so often in my own life, where I am reacting to the dialog while the Japanese audience reacts to the delayed subtitles. Or Tony’s attempt to ask directions, in Japanese, and be rebuffed by a Japanese person saying he can’t speak English. Hammer. Nail. Head.
And with their relationship, my wife and I couldn’t help smiling as we recognized scenes from our own life. It is the little things in cross-cultural relationships that cause tension. We can accept the big differences, because we expect them. But the small battles; over things like how to fold laundry, or wash dishes, or make tea, or the proper way to eat certain dishes, or a million other little things that we have done one way our whole lives so we both consider that the “right way;” can really bring home the point of just how different you are from each other. I have seen some reviews for “My Darling is a Foreigner” where people don’t get this, and wonder if how you hang your laundry to dry is really such a big deal. Speaking from experience I can saw confidently: yes, it is.
The big problem with “My Darling is a Foreigner” is the acting. Not so much on the Japanese side. There are a lot of first-timers appearing here, so several veterans of Japanese film pop up in supporting roles, such as Saori’s parents and her editor at the manga publishing house. Saori’s father, in particular, takes over the movie every time he appears onscreen. Inoue Mao as Saori does a good enough job playing “spunky, cute Japanese girl” with the appropriate pouts and squeals that are almost required by Japanese law when making a movie. That’s the style. If you on’t like it, don’t watch Japanese romantic comedies.
No, the problem is with the “foreign” cast. Jonathon Sherr does a decent job as Tony, but he seems to have been selected for his Japanese bility rather than his acting ability. He doesn’t bring much chemistry or charisma to the role, and it is sometimes hard to see what a girl like Saori would see in him (The two share one of the most apathetic “finale” kisses I have ever seen in a film.), but he doesn’t do a bad job either. The real train wrecks are the idiot trio playing Tony’s “foreign friends.” I have no idea why these three were cast, as they can neither act nor speak Japanese. Nor are they good-looking. Their performances are bad enough to make you cringe, and wish they would just hurry up and get off the screen. Seriously some of the worst acting I have ever seen. Fortunately for all, their screen time is limited, but it should have been cut entirely.
But flaws aside, I really enjoyed “My Darling is a Foreigner.” Probably my favorite scene in the movie (although marred by terrible acting), was were Tony was trying to explain to his friends what he saw in Saori. Because she doesn’t speak English, they can’t see her personality. They only see her as “that Japanese girl.” But Tony, who can actually talk to her, sees it differently. “To me she isn’t Japanese. She is just…Saori.” I have had that exact conversion many times, and it is nice to see someone else who understands. I might just have to show this film to all of my friends and family, so maybe they can understand too.