Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Darling is a Foreigner - A Review

ダーリンは外国人  = daarin wa gaikokujin = My Darling is a Foreigner. A book and movie review.

Well, this is a very short post that most probably doesn't do any justice to the manga or the movie (though more so the manga).  Note: the English version was renamed Is He Turning Japanese? The manga is the product of Oguri Saori and the first volume dates from around 2002. It is an autobiographical and humourous account of Saori's (the manga artist) life with Tony László (the foreigner). It was originally marketed at a purely Japanese market however became very popular amongst ordinary Japanese.

The good thing is that the manga doesn't take itself all that seriously, and it has a quiet charm that for me attracted me by the fact that it wasn't trying too hard. T-chan absolutely adored the first manga book (though less so the later volumes) and thinks it sugoi omoshiroii (really interesting/funny). I had to wait till the bilingual version came out (last year) to really enjoy the book... but for me it was amusing, but not quite SUGOI! Oguri definitely has a nice simple narrative and charming way of describing her sometimes stretched relationship with Tony. Whilst the framing is always "relationship with a foreigner", the books also cover interesting insights into the Japanese language and psyche as well.

My thoughts on the movie are less generous however. The movie was also released last year - and whilst it is broadly based on the manga series, there have been some significant changes. The most important thing however is that the ever-present aspect of Tony's gainjiness (gaijin is the colloquial form of gaigokujin = foreigner) becomes a footnote to what is otherwise a fairly "normal" relationship. The movie perhaps tries too hard to be a romantic drama - which is quite different from the manga. And it doesn't really succeed... Now I have to admit however that I'm not the demographic the movie is after... even though we have a mixed marriage, we live outside Japan and therefore have quite different experiences. It also turns towards the absurd when Oguri's character (played by Mao Inoue) chases after Tony to the USA - but you'll have to make your own mind up about that.

Overall, the movie however seems to me to gloss over many of the episodes that made the manga interesting...  and paints a very strange image of Tony (played by relative unknown, and wooden, Jonathan Sherr). We see someone who is comfortably living and communicating in Japan, yet is simultaneously reduced to near stupidity, lacking common-sense of anyone who has had any involvement in Japan. I can only assume this is for artistic purposes only...

T-chan also thought the movie was no where near as interesting as the manga. Zannen. I wonder how successful this was in Japan? IMDB gave it 6.6/10... but I think i'd give it 2.5 out of 5 stars. T-chan gave it 2 out of 5 stars (because she had such high expectations). My suggestion - read the manga and give the movie a miss unless you can pick it up cheap at the rental store (or online).

For a very interesting discussion on the manga and the very tense relationship between Tony László and another infamous foreigner in Japan, David Aldwinkle (who has been naturalised to Debito Arudou ) read this article. The story between these two men seems much more interesting, and yet features no where in the movie... I think this other story says a lot more about foreigners and Japan. By the way, Arudou is based out of Sapporo... T-chan's home.

By the way - watch out for a cameo from the real Tony in wedding scene.


  1. Yes, the manga's well-known. I have seen some of the episodes sometime somewhere. I remember it was a diary of quiet, usual days with a moderate humor. The drawing was simple, which fit the story.

  2. It's drawing style is certainly minimalist... but as you said, it suits the style of the narrative. I always get the impression however that this is the sort of manga that makes more sense in a mono-culture/race like Japan, and wouldn't quite work elsewhere.

  3. Doing some back-reading. =)

    I've seen the manga at the Japan Foundation library in Toronto, but I didn't notice a bilingual version. I'll have to see if I can find a copy sometime.

    Inoue Mao is one of my favourite actresses (soon to star in the next Asadora), but I haven't been too keen on watching this film. Now that I've read your review, maybe I'll give it a least until I run out of things to watch.

  4. I don't like to be too dismissive, as there's plenty of people out there that would think the movie's good (IMDB shows that there's at least 9 people that would give it a 10/10). Everyone has different tastes though.

    Inoue was at least a decent actress - compared to JS who was just a bit too wooden... which is being a little unkind to wood.

    Check out the english manga instead - if you can find it. I wonder if you can get these things for e-readers these days?