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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
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   Welcome Back Mr McDonald  


Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald

Reviewed by Foong Ngai Hoe

Original Title: Rajio no Jikan
Director: Koki Mitani
Country: Japan
Year released: 1997
Rating: **** (out of four stars)

Drama Behind the Drama

Radio can be visually engaging, since everything happens in the listener’s imagination. So I was told while attending radio production lectures. So Ushijima, the producer in 'Welcome Back Mr. McDonald' says. And hes right. Remember those late-night radio dramas; those soap-operas on the airwaves? Even in this digital age, there’s still a certain charm to this medium.

'Welcome Back Mr. McDonald' (McDonald) is a film about what goes on behind a live radio drama, 'Unmei no Onna' (Woman of Destiny). Miyako Suzuki, who’s otherwise just another Japanese housewife, takes part in a drama writing competition held by a broadcasting station and wins on her first ever script. Naturally, she’s thrilled that her script will be heard live on the station’s midnight program, but with the show going on air soon, the show’s star, Nokko, insists on changing the heroine’s name, and before one knows it, everyone’s changing the script -- impromptu -- even as the show is being broadcast.

From Ritsuko and Torazo, the characters become Mary Jane and Peter Michael (and then Donald McDonald). From Japan, the locale is switched to Chicago. And what was a Japanese romance between a pachinko woman and a fisherman soon becomes an exaggerated melodrama involving a woman lawyer, an NASA pilot, and whatnot. The final straw for the soft-spoken housewife comes when Nokko decides to kill off the hero at the end of the story.

'McDonald' revolves around the drama behind the drama. As the cast and crew for 'Unmei no Onna' find themselves in deeper trouble with each script-change, the drama within the studio quickly overshadows what’s on air, as egos clash and tempers flare, all to hilarious effect.

'McDonald' features a solid cast of personalities like Akira Fuse, Toshiyuki Hosokawa, Jun Inoue, Keiko Toda, and Toshiaki Karasawa, to name a few. The cast is so comfortable in their respective roles you’d assume they really enjoyed working on the film. And just as well too, since it’s the interesting characters in 'McDonald', rather than the plot -- that really drive the story. For instance, Miyako, the hapless housewife/scriptwriter, has become so emotionally attached to her alter ego and heroine, Mary Jane (who was Ritsuko), that the idea of an unhappy ending becomes unbearable.

'McDonald' is a mainstream production. While it does make fun of Japan’s obsession with things American, it’s still a typical laugh-a-minute comedy. The film doesn’t try being too plausible. In fact, some of the things in the film, like the way they interrupt the transmission with one commercial after another, isn’t something professionals in the business can get away with. Besides, not many studios do their dramas live any more for obvious reasons.

Yet by not resorting to slapstick, and by craftily relating the drama off air to the live show, you’d soon be wooed into believing that, yes, anything can happen. The idea isn’t fresh, and the plot is a simple albeit outrageous one, but every character in the show is so endearing, you just can’t think otherwise.

If there’s a blemish in 'McDonald', it’s the film’s slow start. 'McDonald' really picks up when Nokko begins making her demands, but until then it's rather unhappening. With so many characters appearing right at the start, some in the audience might also be grappling with who’s who for a while. But then, these are things you’re likely to forgive by the end of film.

'McDonald' made me laugh. 'McDonald' made me cry (mostly from laughing too much, actually); and most of all, this feel-good comedy made me walk out of the theater with a stupid grin on my face. And mind you, I don’t do that often.

Whoever said radio is dying this day and age? It has never looked any better on the screen.

April 1999