Sherman, set the wayback machine for... 1986. The United States was just climbing out of its worst postwar recession, while Japan was enjoying an unprecedented industrial boom. Manufacturing industries were still a significant part of the US economy, and factory workers were a good example of the "average American". The word "downsizing" hadn't entered the general vocabulary yet, but everyone knew the phenomenon. Bruce could be heard on the radio singing, "Foreman says these jobs are going, boy, and they ain't coming back to your hometown." Chrysler had just been bailed out by Uncle Sam. Bumper stickers could be seen saying "Buy American -- the job you save may be your own." "Gung Ho" does a better job of capturing the mood of the American industrial workforce than just about any other popular movie made during that period. Certainly the movie has its flaws -- some loose plot threads and mediocre acting jobs by everyone except Michael Keaton and Gedde Watanabe. But the story really is about the meeting of East and West: Keaton's Hunt Stevenson personifies America, brash and confident on the outside yet insecure underneath. Watanabe's Kazuhiro personifies Japan, on top of the heap with a successful system, but wondering if there is more to be learned from their Western rivals. The movie's plot, flawed as it is, simply provides a framework for the conflict, and eventually synthesis, of their two personalities. Keaton's acting overshadows everyone else's, and practically makes the movie by itself. I've always admired Keaton for his ability to deliver lines that feel improvised, no matter what script he's following. His character, Hunt Stevenson, is a likable, affable everyman, a natural leader with a wise-ass streak. But he has a fatal flaw common to many of us: he doesn't want to disappoint anyone. He'll distract the crowd with inspirational anecdotes, and even lie, rather than point out the ugly truth. Kazuhiro is the mirror image of Stevenson: shy and introspective, but also, because of his Japanese upbringing, reluctant to be the bearer of bad news. The scene in which Stevenson first comes to Kazuhiro with the employees' grievances captures perfectly the Japanese approach to workplace conflict. Kazuhiro replies to Stevenson's complaints with "I understand what you are saying," but won't refuse his requests out loud. Stevenson misinterprets this as agreement, and goes away saying, "Okay, we've got that settled." (This is still a problem in Japanese-American business relations in the 21st century!) Ultimately, Kazuhiro and Stevenson have the same problem: get the factory working smoothly, meet production goals, and fulfill their responsibility to the workers under them. In working towards this goal, they each have to take a page from the others' book. Kazuhiro's family becoming more "Americanized" is an obvious example. Also note that Stevenson thinks it's odd when Kazuhiro explains how he had to make a public apology to his workers for failing them -- and yet, later in the movie, Stevenson does exactly that himself. The plot and its resolution are a little cornball, but hey, this is a comedy. If you can overlook the movie's flaws, there is a great story about self-realization and open-mindedness here.
Comedy / Drama
Comedy / Drama
When a Japanese car company buys an American plant, the American liaison must mediate the clash of work attitudes between the foreign management and native labor.
December 13, 2020