Friday, July 8, 2011

"The 'Yen Family' Experience - Part One"

Back in the eighties, an intriguing movie review in the paper sent us across town to the Kokosai Theater, situated in the heart of Los Angeles’s Japantown.

(Parenthetically – that’s redundant, isn’t it, inside brackets? – I don’t know how the Japanese people feel about an area being called Japantown. I would not be enthusiastic about a community called Jewville.)

We enjoyed a number of the subtitled Japanese movies at the Kokosai, a classic gem of theater, which was subsequently shuttered, and moved to a considerably less charming locale on the third floor of a Japanese shopping mall.

Aside from quality movies, the Kokosai also distinguished itself by handing out small gifts to the patrons as they entered the theater, a “Flower of the Month” wall calendar, a (hand-painted?) paper fan. I found this very refreshing. I’ve been going to the movies for sixty years. Nobody ever gave me anything.

Our favorite movies were selections from a long-running series called Tora-san, consisting of forty-eight feature films showcasing the same leading character, a hapless itinerant salesman – Toro-san once invited a customer to try out the sneakers he was peddling; the customer put them on, and immediately sprinted away.

Tora-san inevitably falls in love with some troubled local beauty, only to end up helping her reconnect with her estranged fiancée, or boyfriend, or husband. Leaving Tora-san, once again, heading down the road, indomitable but alone.

The Tora-san series is consistently interesting, funny and sweetly charming. If you can find a CD version with subtitles, and recorded in the appropriate format, you might give some thought to checking it out.

Another movie we enjoyed at the Kokosai was entitled The Yen Family, and was appropriately about money, or, more specifically, hyper-entrepreneurialism. The movie featured a middle class family, whose sole objective was to promote as many “money spinning” ventures as they possibly could.

The mother was a cool and efficient purveyor of pornographic “wake-up” calls. In addition to his regular job, the father pulled in extra cash, by conscripting underused retirees to blanket the neighborhood, delivering newspapers and flyers. Every morning, the family set up an assembly line in their kitchen, preparing sack lunches, which they then sold at work, and at school.

There wasn’t a moment in their lives when the “Yen Family” was not focused on its moneymaking schemes. A visiting uncle’s pleasure at the children’s having voluntarily shined his shoes turns to dismay when the uncle’s presented with a bill. Later that evening, the family’s young son returns, and out of earshot of his parents, who would have been horrified if they had known about it, quietly apologizes.

This triggers the movie’s storyline, wherein the concerned uncle tries to extricate his captive nephew from this insanity, though, from the parents’ perspective, they are merely a microcosm of adherents, vigorously responding to the dictums of capitalism.

The Yen Family had many of the elements I like. It’s about a family, my arena of choice in every series I have ever created. It concerns an examination of values, so there was sociological commentary involved. But funny. And if features a young boy, caught up in a world he does not understand, a perfect stand-in for the guy who writes this blog.

Though the emotion is generally alien to my character, I actually found myself excited about the prospect of getting The Yen Family made.

Coming Monday: I meet with the Japanese company that owns the movie rights. And it really goes strange.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; I do try to read your blog every day, but now I find myself "having to" read it on Monday. Scare quotes are necessary here as you've left us with a cliff hanger, and the weekend in between. I want to know exactly how it goes strange, but this cannot be satisfied immediately!


Jewdy Jewstein said...

Jewville... sounds like a pilot to me! (I'm Jewish... so it's okay.)

Mac said...

I like where this is going; into the realm of the weird. Looking forward to the next installment.