Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald (1997)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (3.5/5)
March 6th, 2004

I will admit, upon hearing the US title for the film I became very skeptical for this late 1990's comedy effort from Toho. Japanese cinema isn't exactly known for its comedies, and the stereotype in this "field" seems to be to laugh at the film rather then with them (case in point, Key of Keys, aka What's Up, Tiger Lily?). However, Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald will lay to waste any skeptics that there can't be a great Japanese comedy, as this primarily character driven film will likely leave many satisfied, the acting is top notch, and the more quirky nature of the film is a nice touch, with the only real blemish on the film being Takayuki Hattori's slightly mediocre score.

The film's greatest achievement would probably be its rather simplistic story: housewife (Kyoka Suzuki as Miyako Suzuki) wins a radio drama contest which places her script up for reenactment on a live broadcasting, but troubles arise as changes are made to it to appease all involved parties, that slowly unfold as the film continues.

The plot is simple, yet ties in sideplots, such as the security guard who is an ex sound effect man, in a natural way that breathes life into a straight forward premise. The movie ends up being very character driven as well, relying on the audiences reactions to them more than the story. Thankfully, character development is also strong as each is member of a rather large cast is unique and different. Their motives are never in question as they all struggle through the increasingly disastrous radio show.

The acting in Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald is generally very strong. Masahiko Nishimura, as Producer Ushijima, tends to stand out the most as he shows a large variety of emotions with his character, as the stress of his job continues to increase; consequently, Nishimura was given a best supporting actor award from the Kinema Jumpo Nippon Movie Awards for his role in the film. Overall, though, its great performances all across the board, as everyone really gets into their role and allows their character's personalities to really shine through.

So the film is good... but is it funny? Like any comedy, a lot of the charm is lost once you know most of the jokes, but thankfully Welcome Back Mr. McDonald has its generally interesting story and performances to rely on to keep one's attention with repeated viewings. The film relies more on the overall mood of the film to get a laugh out of the audience, as opposed to slap stick comedy or one liners, which works well in making the film an enjoyable watch time and time again. It gets a little cheesy, at parts, but it just fits the mood of the over the top radio show that they are doing.

If there was a weak point to the movie, it would have to be the movie's soundtrack. Now, to Takayuki Hattori's credit, the score he created for the movie is far from bad, as I will attest to after having listened to the soundtrack CD. However, it just doesn't leave a lasting impression in the film itself. His themes here are often downplayed, hardly even noticeable in the background. Those that do come to the forefront, while sometimes working to amp up the comedic value with their serious approach to an otherwise off the wall moment, don't make much of an impression. The exception, though, is the excellent credit theme, which features the vocal work of Akira Fuse, the actor who plays the Horinouchi the Executive Producer. The track sounds rather dated, but is never the less refreshing and overall it fits the feeling of the ending perfectly.

Overall the film is an excellent comedy that avoids the rather cliché slap stick, and it saves the more physical humor for a montage that plays while the ending credits are rolling. The film really goes for more original laughs, that will actually have the viewer wondering what the "punch line" will be before it's actually given. With all honesty, one of Toho's best films of the 1990's.