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22 Feb 2007

The numerous Japanese problems in Heroes

filed under: journal  :: culture  :: expat life  :: japanese culture  :: tv

I have been resisting downloading Heroes, the new 'hot' show this season on offer on American television, but since several people whose opinions I respect told me that it was awesome, I succumbed and got the season pass. It is a very good show overall. But the Japanese aspects of it are mind bogglingly wrong - I'm talking Memoirs of a Geisha (the movie, not the book) level wrong - a real shame considering that it's quite obviously influenced by manga, anime and graphic novels. It's also the type of show that would probably do very well in Japan (where Dark Angel had a very strong cult following).

(spoilers below)

I just watched the episode Distractions, where Hiro and Ando are abducted by Hiro's father's strong men from a parking lot (talk about dysfunctional families). Hiro's father is played by George Takei, known best as Mr. Sulu from Star Trek, and Hiro's older sister is played by Saemi Nakamura. After the pilot episode, this was the one with the most mouth-gapingly wrong elements.

Problem no. 1: Except for Saemi Nakamura, all the Japanese actors' Japanese sounds wrong to some degree. She's the only one who sounds like she's actually Japanese. Hiro (Masi Oka)'s Japanese is okay I guess - I can understand him most of the time without reading the subtitles, though he does sound way like a helium-inhaling anime character. A big part of the problem is the dialogue he is given to say, which seems like it was written by some manga-anime fanboys rather than real script writers. Ando (James Kyson Lee)'s Japanese is totally incomprehensible; I have to read the subtitles to understand what he's saying. I doubt he has any actual knowledge of Japanese. George Takei's Japanese was stilted yet understandable, though it sure sounded rusty.

Actually, I give Masi Oka and James Kyson Lee full props for overcoming the awful Japanese dialogue they are given to say, and being subtitled much of the time, and still conveying a sense of real friendship, not to mention the best (maybe only?) light hearted moments in the series.

Problem no. 2: This is fairly minor, but Ando's name is reversed. Ando is a last name, while Masahashi is the first name. While Hiro, as his co-worker and friend, may actually call him by his last name (though then it's odd that Ando would call Hiro by his first name in return), it's very odd for the American characters to call him by his last name too.

Problem no. 3: No one who designed the Tokyo sets in the first couple of episodes has ever been to Tokyo, seen Tokyo on TV, or viewed a single photograph of modern Tokyo.

Problem no. 4: The clothes are so very wrong. Japanese people in their 20s and 30s who live and work in Tokyo are among the trendiest in the world, male and female. Even nerdy office workers like Hiro and Ando would never dress like they are working in an office in Hong Kong in the 1970s. And the way Hiro's sister was dressed, in a drab, ill-fitting grey suit with some sort of lacy collar...oh my goodness. The well off daughter of a rich businessman would most likely be wearing a sleek Chanel suit. Even an entry level OL (office lady) would be wearing a suit 100 times better than that.

No one who doesn't know anything about Japan, which I suppose constitutes most of the current Heroes audience, would notice anything amiss. It just seems to show an unfortunately typical lack of sensitivity towards another culture, quite prevalent in Hollywood. Sometimes, it doesn't really seem like things have progressed a whole lot since Mickey Rooney's jaw-droppingly racist portrayal of Holly Golightly's Japanese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany's. And good luck if they try to sell the show in Japan...

Comments on this post:

masi oka's dialogue

A big part of the problem is the dialogue he is given to say, which seems like it was written by some manga-anime fanboys rather than real script writers. Masi Oka might be at fault there—he translates and often rewrites the dialog into Japanese from the English in the original script.

I saw Masi Oka on Leno and

I saw Masi Oka on Leno and he said that he speaks Japanese fluently (born in Japan but moved here as a kid) and that the dialogue is actually written in English and then he translates it himself to Japanese. As for the Ando character, the actor is fluent in Korean and is trying to speak Japanese phonetically. Just FYI. I did notice the clothes seemed oddly retro, but I chalked it up to trying to seem like a comic book and not exactly true to life.

“and the percentage of

"and the percentage of fashion mavens is about what it is in a big U.S. city." Exactly. My point is that there is no way that a young Japanese businesswoman (going overseas, to the U.S.) would have been dressed in a grey sack of a suit with a grandmother like lace collar. Just as say, a young business exec in NY or LA etc. would not have been dressed that way either. Any Japanese businesswoman who is high up enough in the ranks to go overseas, in my experience, dresses to kill. (Since I don't live in Japan and am not a high-powered businesswoman, just a geeky tech person, I often feel severaly underdressed in comparison.)

“Japanese people in their

"Japanese people in their 20s and 30s who live and work in Tokyo are among the trendiest in the world, male and female." I've worked for many years in a well-known Japanese company in Tokyo, and this is a stereotype. Guys and gals in their 20s and 30s dress all over the map, and the percentage of fashion mavens is about what it is in a big U.S. city. When our company killed off the uniforms for women, there was a certain amount of panic about what to wear and some competition, but things eventually settled into a wide range of clothing. The tourist view of Tokyo, dropping in on Omotesando Hills and the like, could lead to a different impression, I suppose. Riding the train into Tokyo from an outlying ward or from Dasaitama/Chibaraki at 8 a.m. on a weekday is the antidote to this delusion.

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