Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald ラジオの時間 (1997) – Japan

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Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald ラジオの時間 (1997)

When a radio station lead, Ushijima, is asked to ready their latest play, a winning entry from an amateur writing contest they’ve sponsored for live recording, the new playwright, Miyako, learns of the downward hustle in assumed show business successes there. Her script “The Woman of Destiny” begins to cause problems for the studio’s talents, a goonish group of voice actors with petty conflicts against one another, and Ushijima proves to be a pushover, agreeing to change whatever it is they desire to revise.The clock is ticking, and much of the production team doubts they can get it done, let alone keep their sponsors happy. What was once a love story of a script in rural Japan has become an epic foreigners’ tale with spaceships and Chicago gangster Tommy guns. It’s a delightful film that begs the question: what time is it?

It’s an exhilarating, often hilarious ride inside the dying business of radio production, what with its assistants, sound mixers, foley artists, narrators, and writers. There’s never a dull moment, and you’ll find yourself sympathizing with Miyako as her efforts in producing a decent first time script for air crumble under the thumbs of the actors and Ushijima. And too, the talents, of which subscribe to an arrogant and diverse ‘me first’ ideology, the hysterical is normal; they\’re to be pitied. You’ll grow to find a commonness among them as they develop, to form a unity – it is only a play that they’re putting on, after all. But when the crew and actors realize that Miyako feels very differently, because it’s her one chance to be recognized and heard, they make haste to get the job done, with improvisations and all. Without spoiling bits, it is a genuinely magical experience to behold, one that plants my confidence with the comedy genre in Japanese cinema all the more.

Classical Hollywood Egos

Written and directed by Kôki Mitani, Welcome Back Mr. McDonald/Time for Radio, also known as Rajio no Jikan, was a first time premiere, and it’s a real pleasure to notice Mitani taking time to pace and detail the comedy, him keeping much of the story balanced, lighthearted, the to- and fro- of dialogue dry and jittery. There are moments too where audience members can reflect on the grand scheme of its set and plot design, to find satire on Hollywood tropes, but, at the end, one realizes it’s a small story on the other kind of family, one not related by blood but by faith in creativity.

Of the story, the characters are given careful differences to complement the irony in tensions. Events unfold organically like ad lib, using classical plot techniques to poke and engage the audience for laughter, tears, and grins.

The sets are wide and extravagant, giving the story much room to breathe, and the camera moves slowly, knowing not to steal attention from the cast. The placement of sound equipment, all then technically new,  is throwback enough to make techno geeks giggle.

The performances are wonderful bursts of life that give the situations a liveliness often absent in comedies, and I\’m glad to have stumbled upon this gem of satire. The roles are so rich in perspective you forget there are quarrels. And for fans of Ken Watanabe, who plays in Christopher Nolan\’s Inception (2010) & Batman Begins (2005) or Edward Zwick\’s  The Last Samurai (2003), here he portrays a truck driving admirer of American sensibilities, him wearing a cowboy\’s hat, the sleeves of his oxford white tee rolled and full with a pack of Paul Mauls. It\’s very funny, and that little cameo makes for an even greater experience with laughing.

Mitani’s direction proves a tremendous effort to show without telling, a remarkable feat considering it all revolves around professional voice actors. He clearly recognizes what it is that viewers care to explore in comedy and farce of media production. It’s like a quasi 30 Rock, the american sitcom with Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, before airing in America. Why is it so successful then, them mocking the process of entertainment? Perhaps it\’s because there’s a diversity of it, the making entertainment from nothing important, and, no matter what, those in the cast and crew know the one staple of production to rule them all: the show must go on, whatever the cost.

It’s always neat to take in the sights of production, the flaws small and large. In the end, it’s just entertainment. You’ll either like it or not. No real sweat should from learning and laughing.