WTF ASIA 15: Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald (1997)

Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald is a good-natured and somewhat of a throwback screwball comedy that looks at the business of entertainment, the consequences of compromise, creativity on a budget, the influence of the outside cultures, the wonders of the old fashion art forms in modern society, professional integrity, and the tussle between individual needs and group efforts. And I think that it is really funny.

Available…uh…on the internet. Approximately 104 minutes.

 

A radio program has just finished its final rehearsal for a radio drama to be performed live that night at midnight. The story, about a married pachinko parlor worker who leaves her husband for a former lover, is not a particularly interesting one, but the writer was the only contestant, so the people working at the station want to do the best that they can with what they have. If you don’t know what a pachinko parlor is, don’t worry; it stops mattering after a while, but you can pretend that it is like slot machines with marbles if it makes you feel better. In any case, the movie is not even three minutes in when one of the actors decides to make a little change in his acting style. It is not quite as important a change as he seems to make it, but it sets the tone of things to come. Soon afterwards, the show’s narrator asks the producer for some grammatical changes in his lines. Again, this is out of the desire to provide the best product possible. The amateur writer, a married pachinko parlor worker who is overwhelmed by the experience of simply having her work being put on the air in the first place, is a little reluctant to change these lines, but soon relents.

 

Then, about ten minutes in…

 

Perhaps out of spite and ego, the main actress, who was the one who demanded the program be performed live in the first place, now demands that her character’s name be changed. Her manager makes excuses to the producer as to the reasons, but that pretty much goes out the window when she demands the name “Mary Jane”. Now her character has to be half-American. Okay, a bit weird, but okay. However, the second main actor, who has been shown to be resentful towards what he sees as the preferential treatment towards his co-star, demands that he be foreign as well. It is not long before all of the characters have to be foreign and the entire story gets transported to America. Now, remember when I said not to worry if you were wondering what a pachinko parlor is? Since the story is now set in America, the occupation of the main character has to change. The writer, who may or may not have been using this story as a means of living out a fantasy, is not happy with these changes. But don’t worry, there are many more to come. A back-up writer comes in to do major alterations to the story and a couple last-minute changes that seem petty at the time, end up leading to huge changes in the story while it is on air. It is not long before the story turns from boring to utterly ridiculous, and everyone starts desperately scrambling and bickering.

 

This movie starts out kind of slow, but turns hilarious pretty quickly. Some of the humor comes from the fact that the radio employees simply refuse to do a bad or even a mediocre job, even when the actual material is extremely lame or downright dumb. They could have settled for putting out an effortlessly stupid product and calling it a night, but it is watching the desperation and the determination of the employees, that makes this movie so enjoyable. Their need for both authenticity and professionalism as the two main actors engage in their not-so-passive clash of wills is what leads to some of the silliest plot changes and the funniest sequences.

 

The characters, while not particularly deep, are well done. Except for maybe the two main voice actors, it is pretty easy to like and sympathize with the main characters. I can feel the stressed-out mania of the producer, the growing despair and creeping rage of the writer, the overzealous drive of the back-up writer, the hopeful concern of the assistant, the cynical weariness of the director. And even those two egotistical main voice actors are enjoyable to watch as clashing forces of nature. I must say, though, that my favorite character is the third voice actor. Unlike his two fellow leads, he seems willing to do anything and does it with a smile. Just like the crew, he is a true professional. A group of people, working together, doing the best that they can at their tasks to make the best product possible. It doesn’t get more old-school American than that. Well, maybe a screwball comedy gets more old-school American.

 

I have seen some reviewers say that it is fairly clever, but only modestly amusing. Well, I laughed a lot. So there. I believe that this movie could appeal to those looking for a comedy that does not revolve around a man-aged boy and his sex troubles. Sure, the storyline of a woman leaving her husband may be a tiny bit controversial, as might the sudden inclusion of violence into the radio drama’s storyline, but there is really nothing there. The perceived notions of America, particularly one city, might offend certain people, but is more likely to induce chuckles if not outright laughter. It is more about the warped image of America and its cultural significance in the minds of the Japanese than of America itself, anyways. None of them knew of a Japan before the post-war American occupation or American cultural imperialism, but what they actually know about America itself is a bit skewed. And it is that skewed image of America that alters and eventually pushes out what was a simple Japanese story. The portrayal and treatment of women in the movie might lead to some raising of eyebrows, but the emotional development of the writer, and her eventual confrontation of the cynicism of the station and its ruthless alterations for what it deems to be improvements, can almost be seen as inspiring. There is also a little bit at the very end that may seem like a bit much but, to me, it is simply a final statement reminding the audience that this movie is not meant to be taken seriously.

 

This movie is about the struggles of adapting to the new, while maintaining one’s identity and respecting the old ways. It is about teamwork and individual efforts. It is about compromise and integrity. It is about imagination and pragmatism. It is about pride and humility. It is about a hundred minutes of laughs. It is about time that more people watched this movie. If only it were more immediately available online.

 

 

WTF ASIA 16: The Housemaid (South Korea: 2010, approx. 107 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available on AmazonGoogle PlayiTunes, and Youtube.

 

WTF ASIA 17: Cock and Bull (China: 2016, approx. 110 minutes)

Wikipedia

Free on Amazon Prime