Stormy with a chance of swears

“But… it’s Arashi! How could you not know Arashi!”

This is the likely response in Japan if you make the grave mistake of not knowing who Arashi (tr: storm) are.  They are by far and away the boy band with the most momentum in Japan, and there are plenty vying for that mantle.  In Japan, they’re bigger than the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and Take That put together at their respective peaks.  Incidentally, feel free to replace my examples with bands that are actually popular now.  What I’d like you to take away is that they’re really quite big.

To only call them a boy band really wouldn’t be doing them justice, though.  “Pop culture factory” would perhaps be more fitting.  As well as putting out music, each of the band members are also capable actors, doing various solo projects.  Most likely to be familiar to Westerners is Nino (in the purple below), who appeared in Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima as one of the main Japanese soldiers.  So, you can think of Arashi as ‘N Sync where every member is Justin Timberlake.

As well as singing and acting, the group pimps out just about every product under the sun, from beer to ecologically-friendly appliances to tissues to women’s beauty products.  Their latest pitch has been for Wii Party (recommended, by the way).

With all their acquired loot, their prodigious output suggests they’ve bought an extra day in the week.  Along with all of the above, they also have a weekly TV show called Arashi Shiagare (which I’m going to take a stab at translating as “Let’s do it, Arashi!”). Every week the group tries their hand at a new skill as instructed by a visiting expert.  A few weeks ago was attempting to beat the world record for table cloths whipped out from under a place setting, and before that, sumo wrestling.

Their universal appeal is that they’re squeaky-clean-cut.  Everyone from the kids to grandma can enjoy the non-offensive, clean fun of it all.

So imagine the shock of the admittedly few foreigners watching the nationally-broadcast Arashi Shiagare a few weeks ago:

Vulgarity aside, we have to at least entertain the high likelihood that it’s an accurate t-shirt.

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Movie posters done Japanese style

Going to the movies in Japan isn’t really the institution it is in overseas.  They’re popular enough, but the high price  – $22 full price and $12 on discount days, which seems to be the standard price at every single cinema – doesn’t guarantee that everybody has seen the latest hot new movie that everyone’s talking about (or not).

I mainly go to see Hollywood movies; most of the major releases tend to make it here to Japan.  Sometimes, you’re going to be waiting a while though – the Simpsons Movie came out about one year after it came out in the US, and had I paid my $22 to see it, I would have been a bit disappointed, considering the wait.

The other interesting thing about Western movies in Japan is that promotional materials are sometimes tweaked to more closely match the perceived tastes of Japanese consumers.  After just coming back from the cinema today, I grabbed a hold of a few pamphlets for upcoming titles:

This one is the Meryl Streep / Alec Baldwin / Steve Martin movie It’s Complicated, which is apparently about a love triangle involving divorcees or something.  The poster I saw in Australia had Ms. Streep and Mr. Baldwin awkwardly sharing a post-coital sheet, making the movie look comedically saucy.  The Japanese poster takes all the sauce out, and changes to title from It’s Complicated to Bakery Love or The Bakery I Love or… something.  The poster and new title make it sound much more whimsical and chick-flicky than the English version.  Poor old Steve Martin doesn’t get a look in in either language.

This comes out here on 19 February – you can see the Japanese “year-month-day” style date (2.19) on the poster.  We should all convert to this format!

Next we have Capitalism – A Love Story, which still hasn’t come out in Japan.  Only a couple more weeks!  The bold yellow test says “In 2010, the economy will recover”.  Given what I’ve been reading lately about the floundering-for-well-over-a-decade Japanese economy, this seems like more of a desperate affirmation than a prediction.

The other interesting thing is that the title has once again been modified.  In Japanese, it reads Capitalism – Money Dances, which actually paints a pretty good picture of all the shenanigans that went on.

The cat appearing in the middle of the “0” up the top is Michael Moore’s cartoon avatar, it seems.  The back of this pamphlet is filled with Michael Moore taking pictures with lots of Japanese stars at the premiere, with speech bubbles of him saying wacky things about Japan (like: “I (heart) Japan”).  I’m sure he’d be thrilled, could he read them.

This is the poster for Invictus (Japanese: “Inbikutasu“), which I just happened to see today.  Apparently, racism was completely eradicated in South Africa due to a rugby game played in 1995 – huzzah!  Joking aside, I thought it was a great movie with a unique and interesting story.

I guess that without much Latin influence in the Japanese language to give any clue as to what “Invictus” might mean, underneath is written “the invincibles” or “the people who could not be beaten” if you want a more quaint, direct translation.

Finally, we have the Sherlock Homes movie.  I guess he’s famous enough that it doesn’t need any title retouching – it’s just been transliterated as “Syaarokku Houmuzu”.  The tag line says “The mysteries of the world have been waiting for this guy”.  I’m pretty keen to see this too, and I only have to wait until March.

The other interesting thing about seeing English language movies with 300 Japanese people is that any humour quite often does not translate well into subtitles.  I’ve been in the situation more than once of guffawing at a particularly funny joke, only to lamely try to turn it into a cough as I realise that no-one else in the entire cinema is laughing.  Sigh.

Anyone want to Skype with me the next time I go to the movies?  You have to promise to laugh on cue with me.  I’ll buy the popcorn, which you can watch me eat over the Internet. What an age we live in.