Elevate Difference

Big Dreams Little Tokyo: A Half Japanese Comedy

Directed by David Boyle

Big Dreams Little Tokyo is written by, directed by and stars David Boyle, who plays the character of Boyd, an awkward American who speaks perfect Japanese. Boyd is a well-dressed young man who claims to be a businessman, yet his most successful business only has one client. The relationship that subtly develops between Boyd and Mai, a nurse and his only English student, is the most enjoyable aspect of the movie. Here is where the movie’s delicate pacing shines: the shy glances between the two characters, the dates disguised as English lessons and the quiet slide towards one another as they sit on a rock, and later on a bench at a business meeting. Boyd is an individual who overcompensates for everything, and finally Mai allows him to ease into real conversation as she listens to his stories and gives him time to come into his real identity.

The only negative aspect of the film is that the humor is often too blatant, which doesn’t fit with the understated tone of the movie and takes away from some of the more subtle, comedic moments. Big Dreams Little Tokyo has a strong mix of quick, MTV-esque cuts and edits paired with long, contemplative shots, which show Boyle's knowledge and understanding of contemporary independent filmmaking. This cohesive dichotomy of editing commented on the film’s narrative of displaced cultural identity.

Boyd isn’t who he appears to be, and many of the Japanese people that he meets don’t want him to speak Japanese or bow to them, they want to shake hands and speak English. We discover that Boyd often enters the store Murakami Books to sell his own book, and later the owner chases him out of the store shouting, “No matter how many times you bow when you speak, you will never be Japanese.”

The issues of cultural and personal identity come to a head in the character of Jerome. Jerome is the archetypal, lazy roommate who - to reference the original Odd Couple - is the upbeat Oscar to Boyd’s Felix, and he poetically explains the complications of cultural identity while he deconstructs a piece of sushi that turns out to be a California roll, which was made by a Mexican chef.

This movie centers around cultural identity and the nuances of language, thus the subtitles take on a larger role in this film than they usually do. The filmmaker uses the subtitles not only as a tool to help us understand the language, but also as a comedic device, giving us an insight to the inside jokes that we as viewers share with Boyd. This film makes us aware of language in its many forms: its musicality, its written form, the intonations that exist from one speaker to another and how our self-confidence is often dependent on our grasp of language.

Written by: Kirsha Frye-Matte, July 10th 2007

Many foreigners find, that after studying the Japanese language and culture for many years, that they are still rejected for being different in Japan. I wonder what we can do to improve the situation.