Title: Gung Ho (1986)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Edwin Blum (story); Lowell Ganz (screenplay)
Starring: Michael Keaton as Hunt Stevenson
Gedde Wattanabe as Oishi Kazihiro
George Wendt as Buster
Sab Shim0no as Saito
John Turturro as Willie
Rodney Kageyama as Ito
By E Dagger from Cru Jones Society
Pre-screening memories: I think Gung Ho might be one of the most poorly chosen titles for a movie ever. Whenever I ask one of my friends about it, no one knows what the hell I’m talking about. Yet, when I start describing the plot and listing off the stars, you can see the light slowly go on as they remember it piece by piece no thanks to the title.
Like so many movies I grew to love, I saw this repeatedly on basic cable. In fact, for a recent Christmas, I gave my dad the gift of our basic cable trifecta: Gung Ho, The Warriors, and An Innocent Man. We watched these movies together all the time, and it’s one of the reasons I think of those films (among others) so fondly. This movie is full of quotable lines. One of our favories was when Kazihiro asks Satio where his uncle is, and Saito responds with “Ramada Inn coffee shop eating silver dollar pancakes.” Once I joined the working world, I met my dad at some event we were both invited to, asked where his boss was, and that’s how he responded. That wasn’t even close to true, but it made my morning.
I also remember watching this in my freshman “Intro to Business” class in high school and seeing a bunch of surly teenagers gradually get warmed over by this movie’s great humor and excellent performances. And that’s what I remember most about it. This movie is just plain funny.
New memories: I’d like to say I was compelled to revisit Gung Ho because the scope of the current collapse of the United States auto industry weighs heavily on the collective consciousness of Americans everywhere and this movie provides a prescient yet humorous look into our current situation nearly 25 years previous chronicling the plight of America’s eroding manufacturing base and de-unionization. I’d sure like to say that.
The truth is, I happened upon Sixteen Candles on one of my 50 or so movie channels some hungover weekend recently, laughed at the garishly racist portrayal of Long Duk Dong, and remembered how much I also enjoyed his performance in Gung Ho. Many years later, his performance is still a delight. He’s like an adult version of “The Donger” – a nice guy, well-intentioned, hard working, and very polite but a messy drunk, subjugated by those around him, and always in the middle of some sort of weird crapstorm.
I enjoyed Gung Ho a great deal when I re-watched it recently. The movie hits all the right notes in capturing small-town, American working class psychology. The movie is loaded with familiar faces from the 80s in George Wendt, John Turturro, Mimi Rogers, and Michael Keaton who was a very hot property at the time. Wendt and Keaton in particular give excellent performances. Wendt is your typical overweight, obnoxious, bloviating meathead whom you hated in high school, and were you to see him again now, would hate even more. Keaton plays the guy who was popular in high school and tries to coast on that type of easy charm the rest of his life.
The thing that struck me most was how the film attempts to humanize the Japanese executives which served as a departure from other films of this ilk. They’re not just evil marplots bent on taking over America; they have families, worries, and insecurities just the same as us. The movie is a step forward in breaking down the culture of fear associated with assimilation that still exists today. No one is trying to destroy our culture and run us out of business. When you get right down to it, everyone is just doing the best they know how to survive another day in a tough world. And once we learn to get along with one another, taking the best from each of our experiences and moving forward, the work gets easier.
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Our featured guest: Rodney Kageyama
Rodney started his career on stage in San Francisco as a founder of the Asian American Theater Company, the first of its kind in the area. While in theater, he earned multiple awards as an actor, designer and director of his many performances.
He then set his sights on film and television, co-starring in such film as as Karate Kid II and III, Pretty Woman, Teen Wolf, Quantum Leap, Newhart and Home Improvement.
But Rodney is also well known outside the entertainment industry as a tireless volunteer for Southern California’s Cherry Blossom Festival, pet adoption and as a docent at the Japanese American National Museum. He is also an advocate for pet adoption and is the proud owner of several pugs.
In 2007, Rodney was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for which he underwent chemotherapy and is now living a cancer-free life to its fullest.
Rodney has more than given back to the community, and we appreciate the time he gave us to share his tales of working on Gung Ho.