Review: Films Set In Japan – Gung Ho (1986)

Michael Keaton plays a cocky, obnoxious, arrogant and disrespectful American called Hunt Stephenson whose big car manufacturing company in Pennsylvania is on its knees and needs buying out by Japanese firm Assan Motors. He goes to Tokyo to convince their bosses to buy the plant. ‘Don’t get me wrong‘ by Chrissie Hynde provides the soundtrack to a montage of ‘fish out of water’ scenes showing Stepehson’s arrival in Japan and includes him:

* crawling out of a capsule hotel

* wandering through Akihabara’s electric town

* looking at some typical Japanese dishes and then moments later exiting McDonalds!

* being confused by the station map

* asking a non-English speaking Japanese guy where Assan Motors is

* ending up in a rice paddy having taken wrong directions

* trying to stop a passing train and then riding on the back of someones bicycle as a result

I think Keaton portrays Hunt very well and finds himself caught in the middle of a war between his American colleagues and the Japanese bosses. He wants to stick up for the workers but he also has a sly side to him and wants to save his own ass while also doing what is right for the community which relies on the car plant.

‘Gung-Ho’ director Ron Howard shows how two very different work ethics operate and how they need to cooperate to succeed.  The individual-orientated American workforce work to live but are often caught up in trade unionism whilst the teamwork-orientated Japanese live to work and live and breathe their company. Of course they appear here as emotionless, robotic workaholics (where ever did they get that idea?!) who are made to feel part of the company as a whole and seek to produce quality products whilst examining defects instantly as opposed to the “its not my problem” attitude of the American characters. The Japanesese management struggles with things that are acceptable in the American workplace such as reading the newspaper on the toilet and Hunt, a working class guy with average intelligence who possesses people skills, has to smooth over the cracks acting as an intermediary.

A failed and shamed Japanese worker is given one last chance to become a success and is in charge of the American workers who are not permitted a union, are paid lower wages, are moved around the factory learning every job, and are held to seemingly impossible standards of efficiency and quality.

The 112 minutes of ‘Gung Ho‘ is a humourous look at the conflicting workforces, with their strengths and weaknesses equally considered. Admittedly, most of the humour is derived from how different and “weird” the Japanese are as well as other cultural things such as eating with chopsticks, bathing together in the river near the factory and doing exercises as a group before starting work which all adds to the strain in their relationship. Of course theres a moral to the story showing how people from different cultures can come to a compromise for the good of all……or something like that!!


Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10

About tokyofox

A Leicester City fan teaching English in Japan
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6 Responses to Review: Films Set In Japan – Gung Ho (1986)

  1. makiko says:

    Sounds interesting! Perhaps I should watch this movie.

    I also enjoyed reading the older posts about Japan.
    It’s always very interesting and stimulating to know how other people feel differently
    about things quite regular/boring to me!
    I was born in Tokyo, and spending most of my life here, it means that many things that
    you mentioned are natural, like air to me. Isn’t it a bit boring?

    I love being here, and our culture, but if I were you, I’d add these two below, to the negative
    room 101;

    1 People NEVER say “Please”
    I see these polite Japanese whenever I travel on international flight.
    Recently, I was on Delta Airlines, and 9 out of 10people around me just said
    “Beef!” “Fish!” “Water!”. It’s really none of my business, but feel uncomfortable.

    By the way, Glen, your book was very useful on the plane, I killed my time in watching
    “Johnny English reborn”(twice!) “Puss in the Boots” and reading the book!
    Please do not worry,I’d return it to you for sure!

    2 Couple of girls stick together-Sooo, weird!
    I see many of them in the office, they are always together, even in the toilet.
    One finished her business, she should wait outside , but stay inside,
    what’s worse, after 2 of them done, they start chatting in front of the mirror!
    What about me? I really wanted to relief myself, but I couldn’t.
    I need a quiet place to do my business!

    • tokyofox says:

      ah i forgot you even had that book! you can borrow this film from me if you want but you will have to wait a few weeks as I am away on holiday for the next couple of weeks.
      yeah its always interesting to hear what foreigners think of living in a different country and I ask people living in The UK about the good and bad of being a foreigner there. Japanese TV seems to often ask gaijin what they think of things in Nihon

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