big dreams, needs more cute nurse

My one sentence blurb: “I accept your dying wish!” Oh wait, “I felt like I was reviewing a business plan rather than a movie.”

Costco chicken and sushi! Yum!

I think for any aspiring filmmaker trying to make a name for themselves, the best case scenario has to be Kevin Smith and Clerks. Yes, two Kevin Smith references this week! Must be another anime blogging record. (The worse case scenario has to be accidentally leaked amateur pr0n.) Anyway, Dave Boyle, writer, director, and star of Big Dreams Little Tokyo sent me a copy of his movie in a viral marketing campaign. Oddly, after watching the movie, I started to think that the marketing campaign itself was the movie.

The similarities abound: in the movie, the main character Boyd takes on many hats as he has ideas (and he has as much as Haruhi after 34 Red Bulls) to try to promote his Japanese skills and make a buck. Boyd and his cohort Jerome are like Pinky and the Brain, only Pinky is a fat wannabe Japanese sumo and Brain is a dorky white guy. The real life Boyle (Boyd/Boyle is as opaque as Deion Sanders naming his daughter “Deiondra”) wears just as many hats for this movie. I’m not sure if there’s a Pinky and the Brain equivalent there. Boyd thinks small, thinks personal, and isn’t afraid to go knocking on doors. Boyle isn’t exactly buying Super Bowl (or even Alamo Bowl) commercials, gets personal, and isn’t afraid to ask for the opinions of small fry bloggers.


The thing is, that’s exactly what the movie is about: Boyd trying varies schemes to live an independent life. I can’t stop but picturing Boyles trying to make this movie to be a successful independent filmmaker. There’s a huge parallel. I get the feeling that the movie is more of a commentary of his own life and own dreams and less about Japanese culture. I felt like I was reviewing a business plan rather than a movie.

The movie is about Japanese/American culture, but the Japanese aspect of the movie didn’t seem Japanese enough. First off, yes, the characters speak Japanese and Boyles does do a decent job mixing in some Japanese cultural habits, but I can’t help but feel that something is missing. Baseball and Ichiro? Rice rockets? Jpop? But the biggest elephant in the room is that even though the film is about Japanese culture in America, there is no mention of anime, Gundam, or even Mikuru’s epic melonpan. That’s the backbone of Japanese-Anglo pop culture! I see Naruto cutouts at Hollywood video; Rio (from Burn Up W) shills soft drinks; and Robotech is going to be a major live action movie. The official trailer (I think this is it) for Big Dreams Little Tokyo had 2,700 views as of this post on YouTube. The official trailer for Gurren Lagann? 50,000. Seriously, if Japanese culture in America is dominated by anime, isn’t it weird to have a movie about it and just ignore it?

(Boyd is really stiff, but he could definitely be the subject of a “He looks so uptight. He could use a trip to soapland” joke. Jerome would be perfect to shout something like “I am Japanese! I know my Pokemon!” during one of this cultural identity rants.)

Thank you Patty-chan!

The irony (if you use Alanis’ definition) is that in the movie, the cute nurse wants to learn English even though her English isn’t bad. The problem isn’t with her English but with pop culture– that’s why she can’t communicate fully with her coworkers. For example, let’s say a Japanese guy transferred into my department at work, and he knows perfect English but no pop culture. We could talk with him, but we can’t communicate with him. We’d like toss out “THIS IS SPARTA!” comments or “Man, Notre Dame is really regretting that 10 year contract now” and he’d be clueless. He’d understand but he wouldn’t understand. (I don’t think Boyles ever read AoMM or else he’d go, “Wait, he’s ripping the logic of my movie yet praised a movie about a bunch of giant, transforming robots where the good robots were stupid enough to stay still for the bad guy robots to catch up?!?” In my defense, that movie had Megan Fox.) The nurse needs pop culture to better understand her coworkers, just like how this movie needs an infusion of Japanese pop culture to help flavor the Japanese/American cultural rift. Pop culture is just as important as any mannerism in highlighting the differences between two separate population groups.

(The very last scene of the movie has Mai and Boyd biking down a street featuring an anime store, but I think I’m the only person who has watched this movie and knew that. I think I purchased Murder Princess GN 1 there.)


Another complaint is that Steven Hawkings once wrote that when he was first writing A Brief History of Time, he was told that every equation that he put into the book would cut his audience in half. I feel the same way about subtitles and movies. Most of America do not want to read subtitles, and there’s a lot here. The subtitles were done more like subtitles for a fansub where the subtitles feature font changes to show emotion, which is fine for Nagasarete Airantou, but can you imagine this for The Two Towers? They also make the n00b fansubbing mistake of not being consistent with honorifics. It’s okay to subtitle as “Mai” or “Mai-chan” whenever someone says “Mai-chan,” but please keep it consistent. It’s not okay to subtitle “Mai” and then the next time (30 seconds later) subtitle it as “Mai-chan.” It got to the point where I was expecting karaoke effects for the music in Big Dreams Little Tokyo or an explanation to pop up saying “Itadakimasu is a traditional Japanese phrase used before a meal.”

And then don’t even get me started on the lack of cell phones in this movie. What modern Japanese businessman wouldn’t be sporting the most recent, hip, non-iPhone cellphone? I also didn’t like how a few of the plot points, like the Osakas (or was it Okinawa, I forget) trying to learn English but can’t find Boyd, could have been avoided with a cell phone. Since there are no cell phones in this movie, they couldn’t find Boyd thus leading to Jerome, uncomfortably, trying to teach them English. I guess the catch 22 is that cell phones are a huge part of Japanese business, but having cell phones in the movie destroy pretty much all of the tension (unless they have T-Mobile and get no signal).

What saves Big Dreams Little Tokyo from common sense and logic is that there are some entertaining scenes driven by humor. One appropriate aspect of the movie is that it has Mexicans cooking for a Japanese restaurant (too bad Sly Stallone used this angle already for Rocky Balboa or I’d be more impressed) and Jerome wonders what is Japanese after seeing them. Also, at one point Boyd serves as a translator between the Mexicans and the Japanese, and he defuses a potentially bad situation by spinning the translation in a way that would not offend the Japanese. It’s like when Yi Jianlian got picked by the Bucks, and his translator said to the Bucks, “Yi wishes to play on a team where he would get more playing time” rather than the real, “OMFG I GOT DRAFTED BY THAT CITY WITH NOTHING BUT FAT WHITE PEOPLE!!!” An ever present funny running gag is that Boyd is desperately shilling his book, and he goes into bookstores and tells people there, “They have my book here for $30, but I’ll sell it to you direct for $18. Look, I’m the author!” There’s definitely some funny and charming moments.


The movie works best when it is trying to be funny. The numerous montages are enjoyable, but there seems to be a lot of them. I liked the part when Pinky and the Brain start up a Japanese food delivery service, and Jerome has to deliver the food… which turns out as well as a typical Miki Onimaru delivery. Despite trying to highlight differences between the Japanese and American, most of the humor is character-driven rather than culture driven, like the delivery bit. Didn’t matter that Jerome is Japanese… just mattered that he is a glutton. The cultural battles are kinda limited (with the Mexicans providing most of it), and it reminded me a bit of Fever Pitch (note: anything that reminds me of a Drew Barrymore movie is probably not a good thing) where the whipped Red Sox fan and Drew were fighting and Drew goes, “There are more important things in life than knowing Pedro is pitching on Saturday!” and whipped Red Sox fan goes “Actually, he’s pitching on Friday.” That is pretty much the extend of cultural conflict in Big Dreams Little Tokyo as well. There needs to be more of it! I felt that there was a larger cultural conflict within Sexy Voice and Giant Robo between the Japanese and the robot otakus than the Japanese and the Americans in this movie.

(Another bright spot is that they worked in at least one typical Japanese fetish job… if Mai were a meido instead, this post would have read very different. Though I enjoyed how Mai wore the nurse hat to bed in one of the scenes.)

Big Dreams Little Tokyo also does a good job of not forgetting characters. Everyone ends up being important, and everyone goes through at least a little bit of change. The narrative is classically circular, so don’t expect Boyd getting sucked into Mai’s memory and having to fetch a dead Jerome to bring back so he can defeat the Anti-Spir– err– nevermind.

The movie has a (limited?) theatrical and DVD release should happen beginning of next year for anyone who would be interested in this movie. I just hope I don’t see Boyles in a Best Buy telling people, “Psst, they sell this movie for $19.99 here, but I’ll sell it to you direct for $14.99! Look! I’m on the cover!” someday. What am I saying? That would be cool. I’d make sure I’d get a cellphone camera picture of him and post it on Flickr, because, unlike the characters in his movie, I actually carry one around.

7 Responses to “big dreams, needs more cute nurse”

  1. Good review! I’m glad to see the perspective of a blogger who got a copy of this movie and *didn’t* just praise it to the high heavens.

    I’ll probably still go check it out; if nothing else, all the viral publicity has been successful in piquing my curiosity. :P

  2. Wow. This review is pretty harsh compared to Dark Mirage’s.

  3. This is not animes. Where is animes?

  4. Dude, not Costco chicken, Safeway chicken. It’s all nice and roasted…. mmmm.

  5. Mexicans working at Japanese resturants isnt so weird. In my home town every sushi bar has at least one latin american makeing the sushi. In some of them they make up 75% of the sushi makeing staff and in most instances 100% of the staff that is not a blood relative of the owner. Lots of sushi bars in that city too, I have visited 20 at least.

    Ill check this filc out if I get the chance. Looks like it may be good for a rainy day.

  6. I also liked how Mai seemed to wear her nurse outfit everywhere. As if we wouldn’t have been able to recognize her if she were wearing street clothes…

  7. Actually, I’ve heard about what you mean by the English-Language vs. Pop Culture distinction before (I believe they called it “Cultural Literacy”, I read about it for one of my English classes). I also agree wholeheartedly; without an understanding of the culture one is immersed in, they will not understand how to work with the world around them. This is why many people that only know the language of a nearby location are not always ready to live IN that location (apply that as you like, folks).


    Dude, not Costco chicken, Safeway chicken. It’s all nice and roasted…. mmmm.

    …really? I work at Safeway, and I figured that Nob Hill had the best chicken, followed by Costco. I mean, Safeway chicken is GOOD, but it’s not GREAT like Costco’s and PERFECT like Costco’s. (Should I figure in a Marvelous somewhere for, like, another Grocery chain?)

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