Osaka – With the 93rd Academy Awards set for April 25, speculation over which film will win the Oscar for best picture has been a pleasant diversion during an otherwise grim year that saw movie theaters close or reduce their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But thanks to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu and even YouTube, watching old classics has become much easier, with media and social networks offering a variety of recommendations during the pandemic over the past year.
In that spirit, here’s a short, if not exactly Oscar-worthy, list of movies with a Kansai region twist.
Three Stripes in the Sun (1955)
This film is based on the true story of U.S. Army Sgt. Hugh O’Reilly, who was stationed in Osaka during the U.S.-led Occupation after World War II. O’Reilly and his regiment, known as the “Wolfhounds,” are introduced to the Holy Family Home orphanage in Osaka. The men overcome their wartime hatred of Japan when they are moved by the horrible conditions there and take up a collection to help it. The relationship between the regiment and the orphanage continues to this day.
Escapade in Japan (1957)
This work is about an American boy who survives a plane crash at sea and is picked up by a Japanese fisherman with a young boy of his own, and the two boys become pals. But when they see the police searching for the missing American boy, they mistakenly fear they’ve done something wrong and decide to run away. The film follows them as they are pursued through the countryside and then the streets and temples of Kyoto, meeting all sorts of interesting people along the way, before the adventure comes to a happy ending in Nara Prefecture. Look for Clint Eastwood in an uncredited role.
The Challenge (1982)
Co-starring Toshiro Mifune, this martial arts action film features Scott Glenn, known for his role in “The Silence of Lambs,” as an American boxer hired by the son of a yakuza leader to return to Japan an ancient sword lost during World War II and discovered in California. The American ends up in a battle with yakuza thugs at their Kyoto fortress, which is actually the Kyoto International Conference Hall where the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was signed. The film’s claim to fame is that one of the on-set advisers was a then-unknown Osaka-based American aikido practitioner named Steven Seagal.
Black Rain (1989)
Not a film that Osaka’s tourism promotion board would likely recommend, this yakuza-themed hit is packed with Hollywood and Japanese legends: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura and Yusaku Matsuda. Dark and gritty, “Black Rain” was shot in and around Osaka by director Ridley Scott. Some locations, such as the Art Deco Hankyu concourse in Umeda Station, have disappeared or been remodeled. But 32 years later, Osaka residents still deal with family, friends and total strangers who say they’ve seen “Black Rain” if they mention they live in Osaka.
There are no doubt many other worthy films, such as 1983’s “Death Ride to Osaka,” could be added to the list, as well as those with fleeting scenes set in the region.
As Oscar night approaches, the spotlight will be on the nominated films and new releases. But given that it will be a while before movie theaters are back to normal, those interested in the Kansai region and classic films may find the above entries great candidates for a minifilm festival in their own home. Pass the popcorn.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.
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