Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 2006 // 86 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // July 11th, 2008
A fish out of water is best served with ginger and wasabi.
Having learned Japanese whilst living as a missionary in Australia, Dave Boyle conceived the idea that would become the film Big Dreams Little Tokyo. Wanting to ensure his story received the justice he felt it deserved, Boyle took upon himself the roles of director and star. Not a bad way to start your film career.
Boyd, an American businessman who has wholly embraced the Japanese way if life, is something of an outsider. In sharp contrast, his roommate Jerome is a Japanese-American who has fully embraced American life, while suspecting he should maybe do more to understand his Japanese roots. While Boyd dreams of making it big in the business world, and Jerome longs to be a sumo wrestler (despite being a measly 200lbs), both men are searching for acceptance, as much from themselves as society in general.
Let's be frank; it takes some serious cojones to write, direct, and star in your feature film debut. With the weight of the film resting entirely on your shoulders, it can be enough to make lesser men crumble. Yet, with Big Dreams Little Tokyo, Dave Boyle appears to have no such problems. And though the film is not entirely successful, either as a comedy or as a dissertation on cultural identity, its winning blend of beautifully realised characters and offbeat tone ensure that the film commands your attention from the start, containing enough heart to overcome its minor shortcomings.
Dealing with the subject of personal identity versus cultural identity, Big Dreams Little Tokyo asks which of the two is more relevant to the lives we lead. Is the society we are born into what defines us, or are the things we embrace more important to who we are? It's an interesting question and, in the character of Boyd, Boyle has crafted the perfect vessel to explore this topic, while at the same time using him as the catalyst for much of the films quirky, and often laugh-out-loud, humour. With his steely determination to succeed and ultra-professional appearance, Boyd is played completely straight, meaning that a lot of the film's laughs are at his expense. But to see Boyd purely as the butt of all the films jokes is to miss the careful layers that Boyle has blessed the character with. By making Boyd a dreamer, always thinking up a new line of business to pursue; Big Dreams Little Tokyo reveals a man who is perhaps just as unsure of who he is, as he is of what it is he does.
Jayson Watabe as Jerome, Boyd's long-suffering associate, is also making his feature film debut. Offering up a performance that reveals natural comic talent, Watabe is instantly likeable. It's impossible not to enjoy every aspect of Watabe's performance, as Jerome struggles to fulfil his dream of being a sumo wrestler. Completing the film's lead trio is Rachel Morihiro (Rectuma), as Mai. Morihiro fills the role with such warmth that it's easy to see why Boyd and Jerome would be drawn to her. Well meaning and kind hearted, the character of Mai, though slightly underwritten, is vital to the film's success.
Boyle's characters' and direction offer a nod to the works of Wes Anderson (The Darjeeling Limited). Like Anderson, Boyle appears to have an attraction to life's outsiders; struggling to find where they fit in a world where anything but conformity to the norm is unthinkable. Boyle employs a stream of carefully selected shots that keep the film visually appealing. The use of extreme facial close-ups -- reminiscent of the comedy series Peep Show -- coupled with his assured performance, Boyle gives evidence of a talent that far exceeds his experience.
A slim selection of extras, the highlight being a commentary with Boyle and Watabe, is backed up by an uninspiring yet perfectly serviceable 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer.
Big Dreams Little Tokyo is very much the story of Boyd, and as such the film's supporting cast are often left in the background. Even Boyd's partner in crime Jerome, as memorable as the character is, never gets the chance to develop much beyond his initial outline. Don't get me wrong, the character is far from lacking in depth. But while Boyd's journey is well defined, Jerome, like Mai, occasionally feels like an afterthought, their role in proceedings not being as important as Boyd's.
While this is the only legitimate gripe I can level at the film, a certain level of frustration creeps in, as just a little more work on the characters of Jerome and Mai would have made for a far more well rounded film. As it stands though, it's hard not to feel the film's failings are surely the result of a lack of experience on Boyle's part, rather than a lack of the required skills.
Fans of Wes Anderson, and offbeat comedy in general, owe it to themselves to check out Big Dreams Little Tokyo, a real gem of a movie. With his debut feature, Dave Boyle has marked himself as a talent to keep an eye out for, making his second feature, the forthcoming White on Rice, a tantalising prospect.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Commentary from Director/Writer/Star Dave Boyle and Co-star Jayson Watabe
* Pipe Dreams Little Tokyo
* Yamamoto and Company
* Deleted Scenes
* Storyboards to Film Comparison
* Web Spots
* Stills Gallery
* Official Site