Tonight, I scored free tickets to a Japanese movie called "My Darling is a Foreigner" at the Big Cinemas Manhattan (formerly the Imaginasian theatre). This was its American premiere, and was sponsored by All Nippon Air (ANA) and New York-Tokyo (NYT).
I've seen a lot of Japanese cinema, from Kurosawa classics to manga-inspired modern comedies. The manga-inspired modern comedies make up the bulk of the fare I get to see nowadays, though, largely because I get these free tickets from NYT on a regular basis. And as much as I love Japanese cinema, a lot of the modern flicks I see are silly to the extreme. The acting tends to either have a goofy, over-the-top quality (things like outrageous facial expressions responding to minor incidents, and a particular fake laugh that female characters always seem to do), or feels stiff and held back--even when someone is angry and the situation warrants animated acting, rarely does anyone raise his voice or yell. "My Darling is a Foreigner," then, came as a pleasant surprise. I expected it to be slapstick silly, and instead it was cute, touching, and, best of all, realistic.
"My Darling" is the story of the relationship between the Japanese Saori and her American boyfriend, Tony. Tony speaks perfect Japanese and is enamored with Japanese culture, though he doesn't always understand either the language or the culture. The young couple must navigate their relationship while dealing with the approval (or in many cases disapproval) from others who don't fully understand this Japanese-foreigner relationship.
Upon the wedding of Saori's sister, Saori and Tony each start thinking about where their relationship is headed too. At this very wedding, Tony meets Saori's parents for the first time. Tony had wanted to meet formally and follow Japanese custom, but Saori insisted it was no big deal. And at first it appears not to be. Saori's mother takes a quick liking to Tony, and the rest of the family immedately follows...except for Saori's father. He tells her that he cannot approve of her relationship with a foreigner. Saori opts not to tell this to Tony, and thus begins a troubled patch for their relationship. Saori soon becomes immersed in her work as a struggling manga writer, further pushing Tony away. Things come to a head when Tony disinvites Saori from a trip they had planned to the U.S. (where Saori was to meet his family for the first time).
So as to avoid spoilers, I won't describe any more of the plot. However, I will say that this movie had some of the best acting I've seen from a modern, young Japanese cast. Mao Inoue, who plays Saori, has large, expressive eyes, yet she doesn't fall back on sad puppy dog faces to express her character's feelings. Her shock at being disinvited from the trip is palpable through both her face and her stammering, and a scene of her crying upon Tony's leaving her behind is truly moving. (I'll be honest, I teared up a little--who can't relate to her feelings of sadness and disappointment??)
Jonathan Sherr, who plays Tony, is also great. He never rests on silliness even when asking Saori silly, amusing questions. He demonstrates a genuine curiosity and eagerness. Even the scenes that are downright goofy (such as Tony cleaning the house in Saori's apron with a hot pink duster) remain grounded in reality thanks to Sherr knowing just how far to take things.
"My Darling is a Foreigner" may be a romantic comedy, but it's still subtle, a rarity in this genre. The end of the movie does wrap up a little too neatly and abruptly, but the movie as a whole is touching without being saccarine.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that "My Darling" is playing on any sort of regular schedule at Big Cinemas Manhattan. This may be because this particular showing was part of the Nippon Eiga Series, which is sponsored by (and used as a marketing tool for) ANA, but maybe Big Cinemas will play it further once their current roster of films ends?
Also, anyone who likes Asian cinema should really sign up for NYT's emailing list. I get these free movie invites at least once a month. And the theatre just got swanky new seats courtesy of ANA. I don't know how or why I originally got onto this mailing list, but it is probably the most useful out of all the ones to which I subscribe (Urban Daddy, Flavorpill, 3rd Ward, Todd P, Thrillist...).