Review: Films Set In Japan – Gung Ho (1986)

Michael Keaton plays a cocky, obnoxious, arrogant and disrespectful American called Hunt Stephenson whose big car manufacturing company in Pennsylvania is on its knees and needs buying out by Japanese firm Assan Motors. He goes to Tokyo to convince their bosses to buy the plant. ‘Don’t get me wrong‘ by Chrissie Hynde provides the soundtrack to a montage of ‘fish out of water’ scenes showing Stepehson’s arrival in Japan and includes him:

* crawling out of a capsule hotel

* wandering through Akihabara’s electric town

* looking at some typical Japanese dishes and then moments later exiting McDonalds!

* being confused by the station map

* asking a non-English speaking Japanese guy where Assan Motors is

* ending up in a rice paddy having taken wrong directions

* trying to stop a passing train and then riding on the back of someones bicycle as a result

I think Keaton portrays Hunt very well and finds himself caught in the middle of a war between his American colleagues and the Japanese bosses. He wants to stick up for the workers but he also has a sly side to him and wants to save his own ass while also doing what is right for the community which relies on the car plant.

‘Gung-Ho’ director Ron Howard shows how two very different work ethics operate and how they need to cooperate to succeed.  The individual-orientated American workforce work to live but are often caught up in trade unionism whilst the teamwork-orientated Japanese live to work and live and breathe their company. Of course they appear here as emotionless, robotic workaholics (where ever did they get that idea?!) who are made to feel part of the company as a whole and seek to produce quality products whilst examining defects instantly as opposed to the “its not my problem” attitude of the American characters. The Japanesese management struggles with things that are acceptable in the American workplace such as reading the newspaper on the toilet and Hunt, a working class guy with average intelligence who possesses people skills, has to smooth over the cracks acting as an intermediary.

A failed and shamed Japanese worker is given one last chance to become a success and is in charge of the American workers who are not permitted a union, are paid lower wages, are moved around the factory learning every job, and are held to seemingly impossible standards of efficiency and quality.

The 112 minutes of ‘Gung Ho‘ is a humourous look at the conflicting workforces, with their strengths and weaknesses equally considered. Admittedly, most of the humour is derived from how different and “weird” the Japanese are as well as other cultural things such as eating with chopsticks, bathing together in the river near the factory and doing exercises as a group before starting work which all adds to the strain in their relationship. Of course theres a moral to the story showing how people from different cultures can come to a compromise for the good of all……or something like that!!