Welcome Back Mr. McDonald

Nobody can make a farce like the French . . . except for the . . . Japanese? Ordinary housewife Miyako Suzuki (Kyoka Suzuki) feels extremely lucky. Her story, Woman of Destiny won a contest at a radio station, and the station is going to perform the story live at midnight. Woman of Destiny is a simple love story, between Ritsuko and Torazo. Ritsuko is works in a pachinko parlor and is married to a used car salesman. One day, Torazo, a fisherman, rescues her from drowning, and they fall in love. Ritsuko realizes that Torazo is her true love, and they live happily ever after. The story is simple and sappy, just the thing you would expect from a housewife.

Suzuki is invited to watch the final rehearsal and production the night of the play. This is when things begin to go wrong. Nokko Senbon (Keiko Toda) is the stuck up singer who plays Ritsuko, and she is dissatisfied with the name of her character. She demands a name change; or else she will not perform. Producer Ushijima (Masahiko Nishimura) tries to go back and forth between Suzuki and Senbon, and a compromise is reached. Ritsuko will now be called 'Mary Jane.' This is just the first of many changes that are made, with each actor in the drama demanding his or her own changes. The announcer thinks the grammar is bad. The other actors become jealous, so everyone is given English names. Now, Torazo is 'Michael Peter' and Ritsuko's husband is 'Heinrich.' As more changes are made, Ushijima must do all he can to appease each actor and Suzuki. Also, with each additional change, Suzuki becomes increasingly frustrated and loses control of the script. The story moves from Japan to New York. Mary Jane becomes a trial lawyer. Hamanura Jo (Toshiyuki Hosakawa), Senbon's opposite, now demands another name change and wants to be a pilot. Inevitably, compromise is reached, and the play begins. But of course, story inconsistencies are pointed out and changes must be made on the fly, as the program progresses. And of course, the actors are dissatisfied and begin to ad lib. And we are the only people who realize just how ridiculous the changes are. The end product is nothing like what Suzuki had in mind.

The Japanese films that have made it to US theaters this year have been varied and thoroughly enjoyable. Welcome Back Mr. McDonald is sandwiched between After Life, a quiet, introspective film, and the upcoming Princess Mononoke from animation legend Miyazaki. Mr. McDonald is written and directed by Koki Mitani, who manages to keep the comedy at a frantic level. Each subsequent change to the script is made to fix a problem, and ends up creating bigger problems. Every single person working in the radio station is insane except for assistant Kudo (Toshiaki Karasawa), who is the only person worried about putting on a good show. The pacing starts off a little slow to set up the premise, but by the time the drama is on air, everyone is scrambling to set things right. Setting everything in the medium of live radio lends an eerie credibility to all of the goings on. As remote as the events are, in the back of our minds, we know there is a slim chance of something like it happening. Welcome Back Mr. McDonald is a good, old fashioned comedy that, unfortunately, isn't really made anymore.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good
1 hour, 43 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles, Not Rated, but would probably be between a G and PG.

Back to Movies