White on Rice
I have something to admit upfront: comedies really aren’t my bag. I have a strange sense of humor that only seems to come alive with the zaniest of screwball antics and irreverent, satirical banter. Dick and fart jokes, stand-up, and most slices of modern romcom leave me yawning. Unfortunately, while White on Rice has more in common with the first two aspects I mentioned, my viewing experience ended up pointing me in the direction of Yawnsville instead of Giggle City.
In White on Rice, the central protagonist is Jimmy (Hiroshi Watanabe), a naïve man-child who recently immigrated from Japan to the U.S. to live with (and mooch off of) his kind sister (Nae), workaholic brother-in-law (Mio Takada), and their talented son (Justin Kwong). Following a divorce from his wife, Jimmy basically resorts to being a child again and unconsciously tries to situate himself into that place in the familial sphere while simultaneously searching for love. He is incapable of making adult decisions and proceeds to annoy the bejeezus out of everyone around him because of his lack of tact, grace, and maturity. What ensues is basically the “wacky neighbor” syndrome utilized by a lot of television sitcoms—where an eccentric newcomer enters the picture and acts as the comedic relief or simply “the” comedy for the older, less interesting characters surrounding him/her.
While sometimes that form of entertainment can be charming or welcoming (like bulking up on Spike in season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), I found the character of Jimmy to be just as insanely annoying and frustrating as his family does in the film. He’s not witty, funny, or charismatic in the least and the climax of his so-called character arc is far too good a fate for someone so slapdash and negligent. Judd Apatow comedies possess more rewarding male characters. Nonetheless, when the film focuses on his family and their own problems, I felt compelled to keep watching because their trio of hardships feel genuine and honest. Their subtle sincerity almost makes up for the lack of growth in Jimmy’s character, though not quite.
Last month, I saw a similarly toned film called Tokyo Sonata by Japanese filmmaker, Kyroshi Kurosawa. Though it pains me to recommend a critically-acclaimed film over an independent endeavor, I must make that suggestion with this review because the Ozu-inspired Tokyo Sonata, while not as intentionally funny as White on Rice, serves as an earnest family drama that also takes a stand on the state of masculinity in Japanese households and focuses on the roles of women and children within that context. The most interesting elements of White on Rice are at the forefront of thought in Tokyo Sonata and I highly recommend checking it out if it comes to a theater near you.