In a rare instance of parallel lives with MF commenters (who were doing the same thing in the replies to this post), I got into a spontaneous fit of impersonating Sean Connery’s Japanese last weekend. When my girlfriend started demanding the original article for comparison purposes, we decided to have a private screening of Rising Sun, where SC speaks a lot of Japanese, and You Only Live Twice, where he actually “becomes” Japanese.
Rising Sun (1993)
We’ve made fun of Rising Sun on Mutant Frog a few times now: Sean Connery’s dialogue came up in comments on two posts dealing with our favorite craptacular bilingual action star, Steven Seagal; the book came up in a discussion regarding that dude whose name rhymes with Balex Barr; and our esteemed commenter Gaijin Biker went as far as to call it “the worst movie ever made about Japan“.
I read Michael Crichton’s book long before I saw the movie, and I can briefly explain the suckage of both as follows: Michael Crichton is a doctor with a nose for science and technology. He is used to writing really entertaining fiction on science and technology-related topics. In Rising Sun, he tried to extend his nose to sociology and anthropology, and failed miserably. He never understood Japan beyond a few books he read far too literally, and while this might suffice for genetics (granted, Jurassic Park was still really pseudo-scientific) or air disaster investigations (my aircraft mechanic father loved Airframe), it doesn’t suffice when one is talking about entire societies.
The movie suffered from another form of suckage: like many B-grade Hollywood productions involving Japanese characters, the studio never bothered to get the cooperation of a Japanese studio to help with casting, and as a result they had to make do with a hodgepodge of Asian-American actors who couldn’t speak Japanese to save their lives. Only one of the actors spoke good Japanese: the late and great Mako, a Japan-native Hollywood actor who played Admiral Yamamoto in Pearl Harbor. Here, he played the crusty old president of the evil corporation.
Now, if Mako’s Japanese was the best (inasmuch as it was authentic), Sean Connery’s had to be the worst–much worse than the Asian-Americans in the movie, and even worse than Wesley Snipes, who actually wasn’t half bad at it (I enjoyed his dialogue with the Pimsleur tape early on in the movie).
He started by introducing himself in a ludicrous exchange with the disgusting Japanese corporate shill, Ishihara-san. And then, later on in the movie, he got very okotta. The lone money quote: Connery calls Snipes “kouhai” one too many times, and Snipes responds “Look, sempai, apple pie, whatever…”
You Only Live Twice (1967)
This is my favorite James Bond film by a long shot. Here’s my short synopsis of the plot, which should make the film’s greatness rather obvious:
Bond fakes his own death in Hong Kong, is buried at sea, breaks out of his wrappings and gets rescued by a submarine, and after getting a mission briefing on board, swims to Japan in scuba gear. He tracks down a sketchy mega-corporation (based in a rebranded Hotel New Otani) which seems to be bankrolling a mysterious Jaws-like rocket that is eating American and Soviet spacecraft in orbit and threatening to start World War III. After a few close scrapes, Bond finally meets the director of Japanese intelligence, who is named Tiger and has his own poshly-fitted Marunouchi Line train so he can travel around Tokyo in secret. They figure out that everything’s going down on a quaint little island with a fishing village, which Bond patrols in a ridiculous-looking autogyro equipped with flamethrowers. He then meets Japanese intelligence’s secret weapon: an enormous school of NINJAS who are training in a rebranded Himeji Castle.
The team turns Bond into a Japanese guy (which apparently mostly involved restyling his hair), teaches him how to silently kill people, and marries him (!) to a nubile young fisherman’s daughter, ostensibly so he can fit into the little village.
As it turns out, the rockets are coming out of a nearby volcano, which has been hollowed out and occupied by good ol’ Blofeld (a.k.a. Dr. Evil’s godfather). Bond leads an invasion of ninjas, stuff happens and he ends up making out with his “wife” on top of a submarine. The end. (Oh yeah, there’s one part where a car chase is interrupted by a helicopter with a giant electromagnet.)
That is seriously the most awesome story ever. Especially the ninjas. In fact, the ninjas quite literally saved this movie. Five of the producers behind the Bond films, including Messrs. Saltzman and Broccoli themselves, got to see a ninjutsu demonstration on short notice right as they were scheduled to leave Japan for Hong Kong. They had to rebook their flight, and the flight they were supposed to be on, BOAC Flight 911, fell apart in midair due to a burst of turbulence near Mount Fuji, killing everyone on board. So not only were the ninjas totally awesome (i.e. totally sweet) in this movie–they also saved the production crew to die another day.
The producers did another thing well: unlike the guys who made Rising Sun, they brought Toho on board to supply real Japanese actors, actresses and consulting. So even though the story is ridiculous, the characters and settings are pretty authentic. This wasn’t really ahead of the times, by the way–nearly ten years before, Fox and Shochiku teamed up to make The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958), where John Wayne played Townsend Harris setting up the first American legation in samurai-era Japan.
But that isn’t the point of this post. The point of this post is Sean Connery speaking Japanese. Sadly, he didn’t really speak it in this movie. It’s counter-intuitive because the movie made it abundantly clear that Bond could speak it–he says that he made “a first in Oriental languages at Cambridge,” or something equally Anglosnobbish to that effect–but the only line he manages is a somewhat credible “Ohayou gozaimasu.”
Well, I may be making fun of him largely because I am very jealous that he got to romp around Tokyo in the 60s shooting this thing. (And apparently, this guy is jealous of the whole death-faking part…)