The Oscars are upon us, and I have this idea for a Hollywood screenplay — “Momotaro! The Peach Boy Of Japan”!
It’s based on the traditional Japanese tale, in which an elderly couple discovers a baby boy inside of a giant peach. The boy, once grown, goes off to fight evil ogres, enlisting the help of a dog, a monkey and a pheasant through a gift of millet dumplings, made by his aged “mother.”
And not animation either! A live-action thriller!
“Oh, you’re kidding,” says this friend with cinematic sensibilities. “Do you really think Western viewers will go for a Japanese fairy tale?”
He must be the one who’s kidding, for the West is a sucker for fantasy. I then offer classic examples, like “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Lord of the Rings” and Reaganomics. “Momotaro” will pack the house!
He thinks and says, “OK. But you’ll have to make some adjustments.”
“Like what?” I ask.
He tells me that, first, I have to dump the rural setting. Too pastoral. An urban audience won’t relate.
“The old man goes off to the mountains to gather sticks? Give me a break. Instead, have him doing time in Sing Sing. Maybe for sticking up a 7-Eleven or something.”
“And the old woman can’t fish the kid from a river. Have you looked at a big-city river lately? Eew! How gross! Have her find the kid in a garbage can instead. In a peach crate, maybe.”
I blink at him, but scribble down a note.
“And then the kid grows up street tough, desperate to clear his old man from the stick-up rap, which was a frame job. The real culprits, the kid learns, is this sinister gang who have this iron grip on the city. It’s called the Ogura gang, after their leader. Get it — Ogura, ogre?”
I think I’m getting it. Up to my eyebrows.
“And then the old man loses his last appeal. He’s on death row, see, and tomorrow it’s the guillotine.”
“And the noose! And the chair! They plan to hang him and then jolt him at the very second of the blade!”
I stop taking notes.
“Momotaro has like six hours to get to Ogura and make him ‘fess up to the truth.”
“And then he gets the magic kibidangos? The millet dumplings? From his mother?”
“No, no. He gets a machine gun. A handheld version of the old 88 anti-tank gun, that only he can lift — something his old man invented and his mother has been hiding until Momo-boy was ready.”
“So . . . how does he meet the dog and the pheasant and the monkey?”
“What are you, nuts? In place of the dog, he finds this drop-dead beautiful hooker with a heart of gold — and who just happens to be this killer martial arts expert — and he wins her with a kiss. Helluva kiss, almost NC-17.”
“The pheasant? The monkey?”
“The pheasant is this blind beggar who is also the world’s top knife thrower, used to be in the circus. The kid once dropped his entire allowance in the guy’s coffee can and thus won his lifelong allegiance. And the monkey really is a monkey. Sort of. He’s this 10-foot-tall half-ape, half-machine that the Momo-boy freed from this wicked Ogura laboratory trying to produce artificial organ grinders for profit.”
Here I interrupt. “Don’t tell me what happens. I know. They go to the Ogura gang headquarters — which is built like Fort Knox, only with acid pools and laser guns and a million ferocious guards — and Momotaro machine-guns the place to smithereens. And the ones he can’t get, the girl, the beggar and the ape do. It’s total mayhem. But the good guys win.”
“How’d you guess?”
“It’s the old monomyth — Joseph Campbell and ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces.’ The same story pattern we always see. Even the original tale is the same.”
“Yeah, but the original doesn’t have enough action, not for the modern attention span. And you left out the best part.”
“They get to Ogura, just as Momotaro’s old man is placed in his execution chair. But the blind beggar is also a mystic. I mean, aren’t they all? And he is able to work this spell so that just as the chair drops from the noose, and the guillotine blade falls and the electric bolt rips out — presto! Ogura and Momotaro’s old man magically trade places: justice — Hollywood style!”
I shake my head. “I think I’ll stick with the original. Giant peach, kibidangos and all.”
“Not even if they cast George Clooney as Momotaro?”
“Daniel Radcliffe? Ben Stiller?”
“You don’t understand,” he says. “This is not a just film; it’s a franchise. In the sequel, they sew Ogura’s head back on and he’s out for blood. ‘Ogura Strikes Back’ in 3-D!”
“Or,” I tell him, “perhaps I’ll switch to ‘Urashima Taro’ instead.”
“Well then how about . . . ‘Ura vs. Momo: To the Death!’ Freddy and Jason will scream with envy!”
That much I understand.
For I feel like screaming myself.