EXCLUSIVE: Early review of Darling wa Gaikokujin

In a Mutant Frog exclusive, here is an early review of the “My Darling is a Foreigner” live action film from regular commenter Peter:

Well kids, I just came back from the sneak preview of ダーリンは外国人 at Roppongi Hills. My wife is a fan of the first couple of books, and probably ended up on a mailing of some sort along the line, through which we got invited. Apparently they only invited international couples, and interestingly enough the movies subtitles were in Japanese for the English dialog and in English for the Japanese dialogue.

The movie was just about at, or perhaps even a bit worse than, my expectations. I liked the use of splicing in clips of Oguri’s animation, as well as spot interviews with international couples. But… There were more than a few scenes where I was biting my fist a la Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls, and there was only one scene in which I laughed: Tony Laszlo himself makes a well-placed cameo in the movie that was worth a chuckle. But screenplay, casting, pacing, music, etc. was on par with the average Japanese made-for-TV movie.

Inoue Mao looks less like Oguri and more like Asada Mao. Jonathan Scherr looks less like Tony and more like Dustin Diamond (Screech from “Saved By the Bell”). Oguri in the story is not from Kansai, and Tony ends up being from New Jersey. I guess no one cared about these details to begin with.

Following the movie, Inoue, Scherr, the director Ue, Oguri, and Tony came out on stage to say a few words and answer pre-screened questions from the audience. All of them were a bit nervous, but regardless of that I was surprised at how clumsy some of the exchanges were.

Q: If you moved to a foreign country and had to take one thing (mono) with you, what would it be?

Tony: In Japan, ‘mono’ can be 者, in which case I would bring Saori. If the ‘mono’ had to be a thing (物), then…I would bring dried seaweed (nori).

MC & Audience: …. (huh?)

Looking at the post above, I notice this quote:
“The producer Kazuya Hamana (head of TV content at TBS) spent five years preparing for this film and plans to try and recreate the feel of the original comics for a story that everyone can relate to.”

I don’t think any of the feel was recreated, and it’s kind of sad to think that five years of work went into this movie. I mean, this movie was pret-ty damn bad…

Thanks, Peter. Nice to know I won’t miss anything by skipping this one.

71 thoughts on “EXCLUSIVE: Early review of Darling wa Gaikokujin”

  1. Maybe the way to get this right would have been to do it animated (like Tonari no Yamada-kun) with live action / mocumentary segments.

  2. It used to be a much bigger deal than it is now.

    There is more awareness between Japan and western countries than 20 years ago.

  3. I liked the books and I will be going next weekend… I wish I hadn’t read this post, but then again She Who Must Be Obeyed has already decided we are going.

  4. Ken:

    After you go, give us a report on how many other gaikokujin men are there with their Japanese wives!

  5. “What will the world come to next??!”

    Darling wa new half.

    “So, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” it ain’t.”

    Great moments in manga history – Shima Kosaku’s daughter married a black guy (I’m serious).

  6. My Darling is the Filipina Hostess that I impregnated by accident

    My Darling is 20 African men who paid me to help them get visas

  7. I’d be way to embarrassed lining up to see that with my girlfriend. But then I wouldn’t go anyway. The trailer looked like absolute shite.

  8. “My Darling is a Pillow?”

    “Based on a true story from The New York Times Magazine”.

  9. I agree with M-Bone’s suggestion that it could have worked better as an animated movie with the interviews of J-woman/Foreigner couples spliced in. The press focus on the movie seemed to be less of “the movie version of that goofy cartoon from the Yamanote Line” and more of “Inoue Mao’s latest movie”.

    Ugh. At least it was free.

  10. Aceface,

    I neglected to mention that Dante Carver plays Tony’s good friend “Franco” in the movie. Patrick Harlan makes a half-assed cameo as well.

    If I could have asked for a cameo, I would have had Debito show up at some point. Esoteric, maybe, but it would have been worth the laugh.

  11. (Poor Sap = Peter) That’s what I get for commenting from a computer I haven’t used in more than a year…

  12. Poor Sap Peter – the only way Debito could have been persuaded to put in a cameo would be to have a scene where he punches Tony (the real cameo, not the fake Jonathan Scherr)…

  13. Actually, one less than interesting footnote is that I didn’t spot the word ‘gaijin’ at all in this flick, not even the characters in the movie who start out suspicious of Tony as a foreigner. Why not have a scene where some half drunk foreigners at a party start throwing down about whether gaijin is okay to use or not, and then have a totally indignant Debito jump in.

    What am I kidding, nothing could help this flick.

  14. “Poor Sap Peter – the only way Debito could have been persuaded to put in a cameo would be to have a scene where he punches Tony (the real cameo, not the fake Jonathan Scherr)”

    That scene won’t be complete with Gregory Clark being absent.Me think.

    Another thing makes me uneasy about that SOFTBANK commercial is my memory of watching this Samuel Fuller film in the 80’s.

  15. “Darling wa new half.”

    Thanks, M-Bone. Just made a very strange squeaky noise trying desperately not to guffaw while at work.

    This movie needs to be made, now. Starring Haruna Ai.

  16. I’ve heard of several foreigners who say that they don’t want to see this film at the cinema and hang out with all the foreign guy/Japanese girl couples. I’ve come across this phenomenon quite a few times. It’s as if the guys are discomfited by the idea that they might be seen as the living embodiment of a “Stuff White People Like” entry.

    I don’t think the girls generally feel so uneasy but one Japanese friend of mine did say she didn’t like living in Australia much with her American husband. Since neither had a base of friends in the country, they had to build one and ended up in a clique of J-Girl/Foreign guy couples. She felt this was was the worst of both worlds rather than the cultural compromise they had envisaged when moving there.

    Incidentally, if you are looking at striking titles, I notice that, in the debate about sexual depictions of children in manga, Seiji Matsuyama’s “奥サマは小学生” has been identified as a prime example.

  17. Isn’t that the parody from good ol’ 70’s drama “奥様は18歳”?
    The drama queen was Okazaki Yuki who is running for the diet from DPJ in coming election.May diet member Yuki to oust all the 非実在青年 mangas nationwide once she gets her seat.

  18. Honestly, guys. How bad can the film be? The first manga was excellent and one of the (extremely) rare books on Japanese-foreigner interpersonal relations that was actually worth the trouble to buy and read. Also, I happen to love a lot of Japanese films (not just classics, I’m talking about pure schlock). I own “Battle Royal” having watched it at least 5 times and counting. Great film…let’s make more of those!

    And if this particular film is bad, it can only be because it was operating on a small budget. You can’t afford to hire Japanese-speaking Hollywood actors (drawing a blank on who those could be, but anyway….). A huge budget has a wonderful way of attracting the right director, the right cast, the right screenwriter, etc.

    I know all of this is possible having watched Stupeur et tremblements (Fear and Trembling). A pretty disappointing novel, * but a vastly entertaining film:


    * http://japanreview.net/review_fear.htm

    I suspect that the reverse is also true in this case — a great manga partially undermined by an insufficient budget, but I haven’t seen the film so I’m obviously speculating.

  19. Isn’t 奥サマは小学生 a take on ママは小学4年生 (time travel, trust me)?

  20. Thanks for reminding me of that site again, Mulboyne. There are a lot of new entries I had missed.

    I won’t go see the movie just because it’s so obviously poor quality, five years of preparation notwithstanding. I won’t even pay the money to see good movies in the theaters.

    That would be really sad if people were somehow afraid to be seen in public with their wives. Who cares?

    A grudge match between Debito and Tony Laszlo on might make for some excellent New Year’s Eve TV. The winner would get a crack at Bobby Ologun to avenge all the damage he’s done to their cause.

  21. “How bad can it be?” is a recurring question in my consumption of Japanese films and TV. Every now and again I’ll forget how badly I was burned the last time and give something a chance because it sounds like an interesting concept. And then it’s just as bad as always, if not worse.

    There are some good Japanese films, for sure. Including Battle Royale. But my rule of thumb is to doubt everything until there is some reliable sign of quality.

  22. Paul,

    Sure, more money could have made a better movie, but I think the approach of this film, regardless of how much money was spent, bastardized the comic nonetheless.

    If you like the books, then you may be let down by the flick. (But to quote Levar Burton, “you don’t have to take my word for it.” There are plenty other reviews out there:)


    Keep in mind, though, that some of these smack of being written as ‘sakura’ by those with vested interests in the initial box office pull. The blind leading the blind to blow their 1800 yen. e.g. Anything attaching ‘chan’ to the leading actress’ name:





    Some reviews are fairly well balanced, though. The problem I mentioned with the pacing is well addressed in this review:


  23. I basically doubt anything that stars a young girl or a Johnny’s guy.

    Which does not always work, as “おくりびと” starred 本木雅弘, an ex-Johnny’s, and Letters from Iwo Jima had 二宮和也 from Johnny’s too. And damn, they were good. I lack female references on good movies with idol-like whoever.

    But anything with a SMAP dude is certified rubbish. Anybody wants to prove this wrong?

    The thing is, the screenplay and director’s idea of the movie matter less than what some random 事務所 wants to see in it (i.e. publicity for his/her ersatz of a star).

  24. Okay, one more substitute movie idea: J-girl falls in love with slightly older J-guy, who is a returnee from the US. They move in together, and discover just how quirky each other are. Her refusal to think outside of the box starts to unravel him, his taste in cheesy US 80’s music starts to annoy her. Eventually, they learn to agree to disagree, and much hilarity ensues. Soundtrack available from Avex tracks.

    Working titles:
    “My Darling Listens to Foreigner”

  25. “his taste in cheesy US 80’s music starts to annoy her”

    OK,that hurts.

    And the title should be 「ダーリンは帰国子女」

  26. Haha, okay sorry if I implied that Foreigner is cheesy.

    But c’mon, Aceface, it’s not a play on words unless you play. on. the words… (I mean, we know the *correct* word is 帰国子女…)

  27. “There are some good Japanese films, for sure. Including Battle Royale. But my rule of thumb is to doubt everything until there is some reliable sign of quality.”

    You should check out the new Midnight Eye best of the decade lists. They stack up well, movie for movie, against American best lists that I have seen (and generally blow away the 10 Oscar winners – Gladiator!? I had forgotten that it won).

    (Holy XXXX, The Times best 10 American films of the aughts are seriously – 1. The Bourne Supremacy; 2. No Country for Old Men; 3. Team America; 4. Casino Royale; 5. Borat; 6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; 7. Brokeback Mountain; 8 United 93; 9. Donny Darko; 10. Good Night and Good Luck).

    “But anything with a SMAP dude is certified rubbish.”

    Do you mean in the movie at all? Cha no Aji (Kusanagi) was good. Bushi no Ichibu wasn’t great, but rubbish would be a bit harsh.

  28. so much potential wasted . . .

    I envisioned a husband from a near Asian country,
    working as a laborer and the two of them with three
    kids in a dirty flat in Kamata,
    scenes shot at the immigration bureau,
    payment in cash, overstaying Visa,
    intillegent showcasing of Foreign Ministry bueraucracy
    but instead we end up with some
    terrible Roppongi hills wet dream

    what a dissapointment.
    My Darling is a Hemaphrodite could be a good sequel,
    or maybe even My Darling is a left-handed Burakumin with HIV

  29. “So much potential wasted….”

    You see, it’s comments like Brother John’s that don’t make much sense to me in this context. We’re talking about the film adaptation of a highly successful manga series in Japan. We’re *not* talking about fringe documentaries, low-budget art films, or advocacy journalism that would probably be of interest to — to be generous here — 50,000 people worldwide at the most (probably much less). By the time one calculates what it costs to make a film relative to its revenues, I suspect the profit margins would be pretty thin to even negative.

    It should be obvious to everyone why a producer advocated a film on this subject. The manga series made a small fortune. The Japanese public loved it, found it educational despite the bizarre protests from a small handful, and probably wouldn’t mind a two-hour synopsis on the silver screen. This is not to say that I wouldn’t enjoy a fringe documentary on the life of Asian day-laborers in Japan (I’ll watch anything once), but from a business perspective those types of films rarely make a return on investment.

    The real question now is whether the film adaptation of “My Darling is a Foreign” will make a decent return on investment. Sometimes I get the sense that some people forget that the movie industry is a business, too.

  30. Paul, for starters, the movie is not a 90 minute synopsis of the manga. If you go in hoping for that, you, like I, will be sadly disappointed.

    The idea that the music industry is a business is no secret. I would like to see someone build a business out of critiquing movies as well, though. There are way too many pieces of shit that get passed off as ‘entertainment’ in a country that can do way better.

  31. “I envisioned a wife from a near Asian country,
    working as a laborer and the with a kid in a dirty
    flat left in Ulaabbaatar.
    scenes shot at the immigration bureau,
    payment in cash, overstaying Visa,
    intillegent showcasing of Foreign Ministry bueraucracy”

    Hey,maybe it’s about time to quit my current job and move onto the field of manga.
    Wait for “My wife is a foreigner” by Aceface,guys.

  32. Paul, re your comment – I think a film that does justice to the idea of marrying a foreigner would be of interest to many more than this piece of crap. I never mentioned fringe journalism, merely a film with a bit of grit that makes the most out of a golden piece of subject matter.
    Only in Japan could you have a film called “I married a foreigner”.

    Whatever next ?

    “One of my friends is a Cripple”

    Re; “The Japanese Public Loved the Manga Series”

    Yes of course they did. In the same way that they loved Ishihara’s Sankokujin speech.

  33. Are you married to a Japanese woman by any chance,Brother John?
    Because your wife’s narrative on married life must be a lot more interesting than that of Mrs.Tony Laszlo.

  34. Me and my wife want to see this movie on video with our kids. I don’t expect to be blown away by the performance but the concept is highly interesting.

    Maybe we’ll see an increase in international marriages. I’m all for that.

  35. I’ve just noticed last week’s Variety review:

    “Cross-cultural romance is put under the Nipponese microscope in the quaint romantic comedy “My Darling Is a Foreigner.” Based on a bestselling autobiographical manga by Saori Oguri, pic outlines the pitfalls and pleasures of a relationship between a Japanese woman and an American man. Set for an April local release, pic will find appreciative distaff fans among readers of the original manga and its travelogue sequels. Internationally, its appeal will be confined to Japan-themed fests.

    “Wannabe manga artist Saori (Mao Inoue) is besotted with Tony Lazlo (Jonathan Sherr), an English teacher residing in Tokyo. Fully assimilated, Tony speaks fluent Japanese and has an unwavering respect for local customs. Despite Tony’s Japanization, Saori’s father (Jun Kunimura) disapproves of the liaison. Script makes some amusing and accurate observations, but narrative tension flounders due to excessive fidelity to Oguri’s experience. Sherr has little to do but be sweet and understanding; Inoue is more rounded, but can’t transcend the script’s limitations. Occasional use of Oguri-style animation will appeal to the manga’s fans, but merely emphasize the charm that’s mostly missing. Helming and lensing are as flat as Sherr’s character. Tech credits are solid.”

  36. “Fully assimilated”

    I thought Tony Laszlo is one of those gaijin type who thinks once you stop challenging the various aspect of Japanese life,you are helping the social injustice to thrive.

    But then,it’s a film based on sugar-coated manga…

  37. I won’t be going to see it anyway, with my Japanese wife.

    It is simply absurd to have a film called “My Darling is a Foreigner”

    makes you think of some 1960s show in the UK called
    “Them next door” about a family of Pakistani immigrants

  38. ”you think of some 1960s show in the UK called
    “Them next door” about a family of Pakistani immigrants”

    Well,first comes “Them next door” and then comes the multicultural British society with few race riots and an underground bombing.

    The manga and the film correctly represent the state of the nation on immigrant as it is.So far one out of every six married couples nationwide are international marriage.Which is why the manga became a hit。But the story nor the logic that run through manga and the film can’t be on the same level in PC which is widely accepted in UK or the US/Canada/Australia/NZ since Japan haven’t got that far.

    Anyway it could have been worse.Ishihara could have produced “My darling is a Sangokujin”……

  39. Hey, “Darling ha Gaikokujin” is blown away on the grating title scale by “Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me”. That very well might be the worst title ever.

    I can see being “annoyed by” “Darling ha”, but if “Them Next Door” was a lighthearted and humorously humanizing take, wouldn’t it change the way that we interpret the title?

  40. Actually I’m interested in “Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me”.It’s supposed to be about life in Nagoya.

    Excerpt from Amzon.com review.
    “she’s the only Jewish girl on public transportation, and everyone is staring.”

    The book sounds like more or less a hybrid between “Lost in Translation” and “The Diary of Anne Frank”

  41. “she’s the only Jewish girl on public transportation”

    Yes, that is exactly what all of the Japanese passangers are thinking.

    Of course, we can’t give the author 100% of the blame for all of this copy.

  42. Hollywood Reporter has a review.

    “It is breezy and makes international matches look like a piece of cake, but at least director Kazuaki Ue tactfully avoids those naff “I say tomato, you say to-mah-to” comparisons. ”

    “”My Darling” makes spot-on observations of how illogical xenophobia can be: When Tony stops a passerby to ask for directions in perfect Japanese, the man recoils in terror, insisting that he cannot understand 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 Mika’s wedding.”

  43. “Saori’s parents cannot tell Tony and the priest apart at Mika’s wedding.”

    Way to miss the joke, Maggie.

    Again, the only thing that director Ue left out was the word “gaijin”, which apparently snuck its way into the title on imdb:


  44. “My Darling Kidnapped Our Children to a Country That Hasn’t Signed the Hague Convention”

  45. “I’ve heard of several foreigners who say that they don’t want to see this film at the cinema and hang out with all the foreign guy/Japanese girl couples. I’ve come across this phenomenon quite a few times. It’s as if the guys are discomfited by the idea that they might be seen as the living embodiment of a “Stuff White People Like” entry”

    Mulboyne, THANK YOU for posting the most intriguing comments on this thread. Whites are normally not made to feel self-conscious about their racial background (being the “default global standard” race, I suppose, or something like that) so it’s always interesting to find exceptions to that general rule.

  46. Probably attracts more public attention than “My Darling is a PC Nazi”…..

  47. You know, the other day, I was talking to my wife about Darling wa gaikokujin. I’ve never read it, but a friend of hers recommended it, and it seems like everyone who has read it has liked it. It was quite the talk of the town a while ago.

    Just like Ishihara’s “Sankokujin” comment. All the nursery school moms were talking about it. Everybody loved it. It got glowing praise everywhere.

    Oh, wait. That didn’t happen? It was a scandal, reported on negatively in the media? Housewives didn’t talk about how funny and interesting Ishihara was while chatting at the nursery school?

    Ah, excuse me. For a second there I got Brother John’s reality mixed up with actual reality.

  48. Went to this god forsaken movie yesterday with Japanese girlfriend. Felt like I was in zoo while buying tickets. And the movie…..oh my god, the less said the better. But my gf was absolutely taken by the movie. I amused myself during the movie by watching her various reactions to the plot of the movie.

  49. @commenter

    Split decision, eh? Interesting… My wife almost edged me out in terms of total forehead slaps. That being said, although she doesn’t say anything positive about it, at the same time she doesn’t speak quite as harshly of the film as I do.

  50. @Peter

    Well, the thing is that my gf finds goodness in all things. Like how she needs to immediately sign up for a gym just because she feels that her skinny legs have acquired a little fat. But somehow she manages to miss spotting my quite the obvious beer belly.

  51. Saw it yesterday – sickly sweet movie, which skips over some of the pertinent observations in the book (real esate agents and gaijin renters etc) and ops for the Cute J-girl Hooks Cute Foreign Boy angle.
    Mao Inuoe is terrible. If I were Saori Oguri I’d sue the movie makers.
    But it’s ckind of harmless pap really.
    My darling says he’ll see it sometime on video…

  52. With the exception of the language issue and the fish-eating thing, their “cultural” clashes seemed to revolve around the fact that he didn’t know how to do housework properly… I can’t imagine that it’s common to leave soap on the glasses anywhere (and certainly not in the northeast US, where Tony was supposed to come from), and I know my fair share of Japanese men who have destroyed clothes by washing them incorrectly. It was good that Saori’s mom made that observation: every relationship faces issues like that. I got the strong impression that Saori’s character had never seriously dated *anyone* before.

    The title should have been “My Darling is a Man” or “My Darling is Not a Mindreader.”

  53. My wife has a hypothesis that Japanese are getting more insular for watching many bad Japanese movies.Wonder how she reacts with this one.

  54. I just saw the film on ANA coming back from Japan yesterday with my Japanese wife. Even though she was sitting next to me on the plane, I did not wake her up to watch this terribly embarassing movie. So I guess interracial couples aren’t automatically drawn to this. The film is terribly pro-Japan and in a way anti-Kansai.
    Tony enthusiastically loves everything about Japan and foreigners do crazy things.
    Why would someone from Osaka be so uppity and rude? That’s more of the character of Tokyo. I’m still not sure if the film takes place in Tokyo (Saori’s dialect) or Osaka. And what was Tony’s job–I guess English teacher. Then why didn’t he teach her English–Maybe she thought he spoke Japanese as a first language and only knew a little English. I’m also not sure why the father (who approved of at least a superficially western wedding) did not approve of tony and saori. He feared that the couple would leave Japan and live in the US. HUH?? Tony loved Japan more than his own mother! This guy would live in Japan if there was a typhoon and an earthquake every single day.
    Well, the problem is the film is terribly unrealistic and really gives a very unrealistic view of interracial marriage.
    Apparently only older men who are fluent in Japanese (gestures and language) can marry a Japanese woman. And Japanese women can’t speak english so, guys if you’re not fluent, stay home. In fact the only way Tony could be that fluent would be if he were half Japanese. I kept wondering that until the end of the movie. And the strangest thing is that Saori (early 20s) would be interested in a 35 year old foreigner. Huh? My experience in Japan revealed that most Japanese women in their 20s were too immature and embarrassed to be seen in public with a foreigner. Older women actually were more likely to overcome that issue. And the much older foreigner seems to give the impression that the whole HaraJuku Lolita fad isn’t so weird afterall.

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