More Than Meets the Eye
Last Wednesday was like, the best day EVER.
I was getting on the train for work, and on a whim I decide to listen to the theme songs for the classic Transformers cartoon on my iPod. Yes, of course I have the Transformers themes on my iPod, do you even have to ask? I wonder what all the Japanese people would think on the train if they saw this big black dude with his earphones, and expect him to be bumpin’ to some Eminem or 50 Cent or something, only to find out that he was really jamming to “the Transformers! More than meets the eye!”
Anyway, listening to the themes only reminded me of my frustration over not having seen the new live action Transformers movie yet. For big movies, Japan is usually pretty good about getting them on time. We got Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix at the same time as America, and we actually got Spider-Man 3 a few days early. But for some reason, Transformers doesn’t come out here until August 4th, a whole month after America. And, apparently, the rest of the world. Swear to God, Japan is like the last fuckin’ nation on Earth to get this movie. Fools in Iraq were ducking bullets while watching Transformers. Kids in Ethiopia still don’t have any biscuits, but at least they could watch the Transformers movie.
With the movie out *everywhere else,* buzz was abound on the internet. Contrary to the popular belief of all the Professional Internet Movie Psychics out there, apparently the movie did not suck steaming piles of donkey shit. I was very excited–more than just a blockbuster summer movie, this was a chance to reclaim a long-long portion of my childhood. Outpost Nine fans know of the everlasting, deep emotional damage that the original Transformers animated movie did to my psyche. Having a TF move–a good TF movie, and live action no less? I could hardly wait. And yet, I was going to have to wait because Japan is apparently some backwards ass nation that can’t get the Michael Bay Transformers movie on time. I bet you they’re still pissed off about Pearl Harbor. Hey Japan, we didn’t like it either! Meanwhile, an Eskimo in an igloo is using his Morse code system to tap out how awesome he thought the Transformers movie was.
Anyway, as I get to work, I run into a new hire, a young Korean guy. As he sees me, he signals me–“Hey, my wife has a free pass to an advance screening of Transformers today. But there’s also a festival in town, and we want to go to that instead. So I was thinking, would you like to take the pass?”
You know, I talk about Japan almost exclusively on this site, which is kind of one-dimensional. Let me take a moment to talk about Korea. What an awesome country. And Koreans–such beautiful people.
The awesomeness had a catch though. The card was addressed to his wife–therefore it had the name of a Japanese female on it. It also read: “Pass is only redeemable for one person, the intended recipient of the pass.” I am very obviously not Japanese, or female. I take the pass anyway, figuring it’s worth a shot at least.
My first thought was to use my Elite Photoshop h4x to make a new mailing label with my name on it. However, this was something that would require time and effort. Unlike my English teacher job, where between classes I could go find a safe place to sleep, or pretend to be engrossed in “1-Kyuu for Dummies” when I’m really perusing “Hot Japanese Biker Babes,” I was working a real job now, where they actually expected me to do real work and stuff. I didn’t have the time to devote to Photoshop h4x.
I eventually decided on three possible courses of action.
1. Hand them the pass, and if they questioned me, get really angry and tell them that that’s actually my name. Of course, it isn’t my name, and I can’t prove that for a second, but I’m hoping that the sight of a black man getting ready to unleash his Unbridled Negro Rage (UNR) would Gaijin Smash the Japanese into submission.
Q: What’s scarier than a big, angry, rampaging black man?
A: Not a whole lot. Lions, maybe.
2. Hand them the pass, and respond to any and all questions in English. I think that the Japanese English Freak Out is actually more potent than any UNR-induced Gaijin Smashes. Or, combine the two–get angry and start yelling in English. It’s like you’re the owner of a Glassware and Fine China shop, and you look up to see not only a 5-ton rhinoceros charging at your shop, the rhino also happens to be wearing a jet pack equipped with lasers and shit. It’s like, you’ve transcended ordinary levels of fucked and gone right into super-fucked.
3. Tell them that the pass was for my wife, but she couldn’t go so she gave it to me. If they doubt me, call my girlfriend up and have her pretend to be this woman. Wasn’t my favorite option, but an option nonetheless.
Work ended, and I headed out to the hall where they would be holding the screening. It wasn’t far from where I worked, but it was in an area of Osaka I’ve never been to before. If you’ve never been to Osaka, it’s basically a giant city version of a Rubik’s cube. I think the Hand of God occasionally comes down and turns random streets and subsections on their heads just to fuck with you. Time was going to be of the essence–the screening started at 6:30, and I didn’t even arrive in the area until 6:20. There was going to be no room for error. Despite the clusterfuck that is Osaka city streets, I somehow found the place on my first try! Yes! The awesomeness of this day continues! Now, the next hurdle–how do I pretend to be a Japanese woman?
I scoped the situation out. It was a whole lot bigger than I had anticipated. The event was being held in some grand concert hall, and there were A LOT of people. There was one girl at the front, casually collecting the passes as a steady stream of people filtered in. Yes, this can work! Abandoning my careful strategies, I simply just got in line, and handed my pass to the girl face down. She smiled, collected it, and really, that was the end of the story. I know she turned it over, but if she took a good look at the name became suspicious, all she would have seen of me was my vapor trail, as I hauled ass into that movie theater faster than the scattering of crackheads when a patrol car shows up. YES! I made it in!
The hall was actually quite big. As I arrived somewhat late, I couldn’t get a seat very close at all. To say that I was in the rafters would be an understatement. I think I was high enough and far back enough, that I had actually crossed border lines, and was sitting in one of the many other countries that had gotten the movie first. But, I didn’t care. It was a free ticket, and a ticket a whole week and a half before the actual release date. Moreover, as I scanned the entire crowd, it was apparent I was the only Gaijin. (Well, at least Western Gaijin … there could have been some Chinabots or Koreaticons I couldn’t immediately recognize). As I sat, I had the stupidest grin plastered across my face. It was good not to have God hate me, if only for a day.
There was, however, one thing to worry about. Was the movie going to be subtitled, or dubbed in Japanese?
Back in the day, I used to be involved in the anime communities. Quite a few years ago, before anime had exploded into the pop culture beast that it is now, and when I actually watched the stuff. We anime “fans” used to bemoan and cry American dubbing practices for radically changing the show to better appeal to American audiences. “OMG, Son Goku doesn’t sound like a Japanese woman! This is disrespectful and obscene to the original Japanese source material! Unnnhhhh.” See, what we didn’t realize, is that the Japanese do the exact same thing. If you ever happen to be in Japan, try watching an American TV show with the Japanese audio track, and see if you don’t want to pour hot wax right down your ears. I mean, I’m not a big fan of the Rachel character on Friends or anything like that, but did they really have to make her sound like a female Japanese house elf on methamphetamine?
If the movie was going to be in Japanese, there was almost no point. Back when I was unemployed, I noticed that the Cartoon Network on satellite was going to be showing the original Transformers on satellite. As a huge fan, and with nothing better to do in the early evenings, of course I was going to watch. On the first Monday of airing, I sat down, ready to enjoy my favorite childhood show.
Naturally, what I expected to be the first thing on the screen was the classic Transformers intro. There’s cheezy synthesizers, random sound effects, a chorus of people who sound like they were just pulled off the street to sing…it’s awesome. Of course, this was still before the Golden Era of Intro Theme Songs of the 90s, where theme songs were simply the greatest thing to have existed in the universe. There were guitar riffs, more synthesizers, and the singers used to pour their heart and soul into these songs. Case in point–the intro for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This guy sang the shit outta that song. I think he actually died after recording, having put his everything into regaling us about these fearsome fighting teens.
Anyway, I digress. I sat down, expecting the usual theme song awesomeness. This is what I got instead.
What the fu- … WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS NONSENSE?!
This is … this is horrible. I can’t even begin to describe how wrong this is. It gets even worse if you actually understand the lyrics…
(robot voice) Transform!
*cue woefully inappropriate music*
Wake up from a golden sleep
The MYSTERIOUS MIND of someone’s heart
Even though there’s only one color of life
BREAK UP! BREAK UP! Degenerating planet
What the fu– … this is not right! The Transformers is a heartwarming and touching tale of giant robot aliens from outer space, who can turn into vehicles and have come to Earth to continue beating the crap out of each other. This song … these lyrics … this crap isn’t even good enough to be called MySpace poetry. I wouldn’t use this as the theme song for a drama about a pair of middle-aged lesbians who are both searching for self-discovery while doing missionary work in Zimbabwe. I mean, seriously, how did this happen?
Once I got past my initial shock of the intro, I tried watching the cartoon, but in Japanese it just wasn’t the same. Optimus Prime (Convoy in Japan) would get randomly angry for no apparent reason. Megatron (Megatoron in Japan) just didn’t have the same evil flair. Without the vocal talents of Chris Latta, Starscream (Sutaasukuriimu in Japan) was just an annoying little bitch. Jazz (Meister in Japan) didn’t rhyme. And Soundwave (Saundowaabu in Japan*), arguably the coolest voice in classic American cartoons, just ended up sounding retarded. It wasn’t the same.
*Why the fuck do people do this on Wikipedia? You think I give a shit what the fuck their names are in Japan? It’s an American product (for once)! You say “Convoy” or “Sutaasukuriimu” to me, and I swear to God I will punch you in the face.
So, I was concerned about the movie. I’d come this far–was it all for naught? All I could do was sit and wait.
And it turned out I was going to be waiting for quite some time. You see, Japan can’t just do something–no, they have to overload it with unnecessary fluff and talking and presentations until you just don’t want to live anymore. This was no exception. You see, Transformers in Japan is “Toransufoomaa.” I’m not saying this to be a WikiPrick, let me explain. “Tora” is Japanese for tiger. This being Osaka, there is an inordinate amount of love for the local baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers. Like, I’m sure families would without hesitation sacrifice children if it meant the Tigers would win the baseball championship. So some genius, in his infinite wisdom, decided to hold a “Tora”nsufoomu” contest where ordinary Japanese people transform into extraordinary Hanshin Tigers fans.
Yeah, I kind of wanted to throw up a little too.
I was pleased to see the other Japanese moviegoers are unimpressed as I was, as they played on their cell phones, read books, and pretended to be interested in the additional hall and movie pamphlets we’d gotten at the entrance. The “Tora”nsufoomaa portion mercifully ends, and finally, we get to the movie, right? Nope! The female MC continues to ramble on with more inane banter about the movie we *would* be watching if only she’d close her trap. “As you may know, the Transformers are an alien race of robots, come to our world to continue their war. There are two factions, the heroic Autobots, and the evil Decepticons. You may want to take note during the film that, while the Autobots bodies are quite colorful, the Decepticons are all a menacing monotone.” Oh my God, shut the fuck up!
After a lengthy discussion about Bumblebee’s favorite colors and Starscream’s abandonment issues as a child, she finally shuts the fuck up and gets off the stage, and the crowd gives her the biggest round of applause I’ve heard from the Japanese. Perhaps the acoustics of the hall were just really good? I think they were applauding because she finally shut up. I could have leapt down from the balcony, and started throttling her with a baseball bat–I’m sure this would have gotten a standing ovation.
Anyway, whatever fears I had about the audio track were quickly laid to rest as Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime came booming through the sound system…I think I jizzed my pants a little. And I’m not afraid to admit that. I’m quite pleased to say that the movie did not suck. While it was not Shakespeare on film, it was most of everything I had hoped for from the movie, and pretty good as a summer action film. I think I can forgive Bay for Pearl Harbor and Armageddon.
Most importantly, I feel that a precious, long damaged part of my childhood has finally been salvaged. If I could, I’d like to build a time machine, go back to 1987, find the kid crying in his theater seat over seeing all his heroes dying undignified and meaningless deaths, put a hand on his shoulder, and tell him–“Don’t worry. In 20 years, they’ll get it right…Oh, and eight years from now, when Kristin in the school library asks you, ‘Do you want a girlfriend?’ for the love of GOD do NOT answer with, ‘Not really. Right now I’m just really looking forward to Mortal Kombat on Sega CD.’* You must trust me on this.”
*I am truly saddened and depressed to say that this is a true story.
So yeah, Wednesday was an awesome day. Transformers STILL isn’t out in Japan, but I’ve already seen it. For free! And they didn’t fark it up! I’m relieved to see that God can take a one day break from hating me. That, or he’s throwing me a bone now to make up for the massive pain he’s going to bring later. Only time will tell on that one.