Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Why Isn't This In America?

by Anna Valdez

Movies about radio dramas have had their heyday in American cinema, but it's always interesting to see this same genre played out in a different culture. In "Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald," the spontaneity and excitement of radio drama plays as both a whacky comedy and examination of Western influence on Japanese culture.

A young writer wins a contest and has her romantic drama script played out on radio, but not without encountering a set of severe script changes brought on initially by a diva actress. Unhappy that her character Ritsuko is simply a Japanese woman in love, she lobbies her agent to change the script's character into an American attorney by the name of "Mary Jane." Thus begins the long chain of character and location changes that transforms a simple, contemporary romantic radio play into a high tension drama requiring new American characters and a unique set of sound effects contributed by a building security guard.

"Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald" is effusively funny and is propelled by a brilliant ensemble cast of veteran television and movie stars from Japan that include Akira Fuse, known only to Americans as the non-English speaking spouse of non-Japanese speaking Olivia Hussey and Nobuki Miyamoto ("Tampopo", "A Taxing Woman") in a cameo appearance as a janitor. The film is wonderfully paced, never rushing too fast even though the characters seem to run about at great speeds.

Sadly, the only way Americans can watch this movie is by renting it from the local Japanese video store. While the film played in market screenings at Cannes, its failure to secure strong American distribution rights clearly makes "Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald" a gem of a film that will remain a secret among Japanese filmgoers. This same fate, of course, awaited last year's Palm D'Or co-recipient "The Eel" (dir. Shohei Imamura), which was a delightful film that was only available in the US through Japanese video stores.

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