October 8, 2009
Hiroshi Watanabe as Jimmy and Nae as his sister Aiko in director Dave Boyle's independent film "White on Rice."
Erin and I attended a screening tonight of a new movie, "White on Rice
," sponsored by Denver's Asian Avenue Magazine
at the Starz Film Center, and thoroughly enjoyed the film. It's a sweet romantic comedy about an affable doofus of a Japanese man, 40-year-old Hajime "Jimmy" Beppu, who leaves Japan when his wife divorces him, and moves in with his sister and her husband and son in America. A hapless loser, Jimmy's reduced (when he's not living in a park or in his company's broom closet) to sharing his young nephew's bunk bed and pining after his brother-in-law's niece Ramona, who also moves in with the family.
"White on Rice" pokes gentle fun at Japanese cultural values and personalities (the gruff, the clowny, the servile) but does it with respect, never lowering itself down to parody or worse, stereotype.
The movie's chockfull of Asian Americans in addition to the rich portrayals of the Japanese characters: Jimmy's employer,a customer service company, has several Asian Americans, including Jimmy's friend Tim, played by James Kyson Lee of "Heroes" fame, who ends up being Ramona's love interest, thwarting Jimmy's obsession. The ensemble cast, which includes Hiroshi Watanabe as Jimmy, Japanese actress Nae as Jimmy's sister Aiko, Mio Takada as Aiko's husband, Lynn Chen (viewers may recognize her from "Saving Face") as Ramona, and very young Justin Kwong as the strange and wonderfully straight-faced kid Bob.
The cast is mostly Asian and Asian American. Almost half the dialogue is in Japanese with subtitles. And, the co-writer and director, Dave Boyle, is a 27-year-old Mormon Caucasian from Provo, Utah.
"Yeah, that's always the first question people ask," he said tonight after the screening. "So, what's with the white guy making a movie about Asians?"