iSugio

My Darling is a Foreigner – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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When aspiring manga artist Saori and writer Tony decide to go out with one another, things apparently seem to be on the right path. In love, moving in with each other, and considering the notion of getting married, the two feel as though they are on the right path towards happiness. This suddenly changes when Saori’s father expresses his distaste for their relationship, with the primary motive being that Tony is a gaijin—a foreigner within Japan. This in turn creates an uneasy foundation between Saori and Tony, both who want to love one another, but are in dispute over their cultural backgrounds. How will this relationship development if Saori’s father doesn’t approve of Tony, and even worse, will it last?

Based on the semi-autobiographical manga series Darling wa Gaikokujin (Is He Turning Japanese?) by author Saori Oguri, My Darling Is a Foreigner tells the delightful tale of two culturally diverse individuals and their newfound relationship. While certainly a serious subject to contend with given the cultural differences shared amongst the protagonists, the film also relies on offering a humorous look into the intermixing of two different cultures and the somewhat difficult road towards not only understanding each other, but having their respective families do the same as well. This in itself presents some very conflicting issues that many people might feel don’t exist in this day and age but certainly remains a prominent issue to consider today.

For the most part, these issues are the film’s strength, particularly because they offer a look into a world of cultural barriers and animosity that exists not primarily within the two individuals who are in love, but rather the societal stigma that permeates throughout family and friends concerning the issue. This alleviates the film from becoming yet another formulaic romantic comedy and maturely decides to explore these stigmas and look at them from a realistic perspective. While these issues are juxtaposed with that of comedy, the film relies on a considerable balance of both to garner some fortitude in its narrative—even if it as times seems somewhat implausible considering the overall outcome. The familial area is also nicely addressed as well, and considering that this aspect of interracial dating is such a crucial one for some families, it’s welcoming to see the film doesn’t downplay its significance. While we do see a somewhat exaggerated representation of the peer-to-peer examination of Saori’s and Tony’s relationship during the first half of the film, the familial aspect is also adamantly explored throughout the remainder of its running time. These definitely provides a more intimate look into the basis of dating between two people from different cultures and how their love for one another affects their respective families—whether warranted or not.

Seemingly documentarily in its approach at times, the film intermixes segments of true-life couples as well. This is refreshing to see as it establishes many of the film’s more important segments in a broader scope, looking at the various topics explored in a variety of ways. This rather earnest approach offers a universal look into a rather specific subject within Japanese society, but does it in such an admirable manner. While love may transcend culture it most certainly doesn’t remove it as an obstacle to overcome and having the film showcase these quick glimpses only help to reinforce this idea as well as the plot. Perhaps more showcasing of these opinionated segments would’ve given tremendous insight into the material at hand, but the allocated segments are but a tiny portion of the film. Since the film also focuses on family, the introducing of family opinions on the individuals taking place within these segments would’ve given the film considerable strength, but alas is not really tackled.

Focusing on this aspect of My Darling Is a Foreigner grounds its concept as a humanistic approach towards understanding the complexities that may arise considering culture and romance. The inevitable linkage between the two is bound to crop up throughout one’s own relationship at one time or another, and the film plays upon this notion rather well. While the film affirms many of these tribulations with humor throughout, they address cultural barriers that don’t forsake their importance for comedic purposes. While some will probably scoff at the direct references to linguistics or Japanese culture, the film doesn’t generalize their relationship as the typical gaijin-loving situation where one befuddles the other in search for some commonality between the cultures. The outside forces seem to become adherent here, and it’s this quest for understanding between these multiple parties that is essential to the narrative and directs the idea of Saori and Tony’s overall relationship.

With this in mind, and more importantly considering the material at hand, the chemistry shared between of the two lead protagonists is seemingly diluted to the point of being hysterically non-existent. For the most part, Mao Inoue as Saori works relatively well here, but her range of acting doesn’t stretch to far from her previous roles—in fact, they are actually quite similar. For those familiar with those roles, you certainly won’t find much here in terms of diversity, but the more considerable disappointment here is certainly Jonathan Sherr as Tony. As the everyman gaijin, Sherr underplays the role significantly and offers up a perplexing performance consisting of awkward gesturing and obvious restraint. While certainly fashionable considering the manga, here it comes off as rather ridiculous and superficial in its entirety. While based upon author Saori Oguri’s true relationship with American writer Tony Laszlo, the dissuading performance certainly doesn’t allow much believability through Tony to come to fruition, which is disappointing considering the subject explored. Combined, these two seem oddly distant concerning character and likeability and personality-wise just as opposite.

It then seems that the primary substance of the film remains within its themes rather than characters, which is sadly the case here. While this absence of believable characters inevitability dilutes the functionality of the narrative, the film still remains an exceptional look into an area that is still somewhat controversial to this day. Considering the backdrop of Japan, the film handles the subject material with considerable thought and humor, which again lessens the seriousness of the subject to some degree. For those viewers who are personally involved in such a relationship, this film should certainly resonant more appropriately than for those who are not, but I believe the values of tolerance and acceptance can be more universally appealing to all. It’s at most a film that delegates its time towards issues that I’m sure are collectively felt throughout the world. While the issue of the gaijin still remains a debatable topic within Japan, My Darling Is a Foreigner courageously attempts to break down stereotypical viewpoints on love and culture. While it may not have succeeded entirely in this regard, it does an adequate job at portraying the stigma of relationships shared with foreigners. In the end, the film remains an observational piece concerning some of the obstacles that might be faced by foreign relationships within Japan, tinted with an overall comical appeal. While certainly much more could’ve been addressed here, My Darling Is a Foreigner ultimately remains a film that is unique as it is refreshing albeit somewhat stunted in its execution.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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