The film opens amusingly with the family once again watching an outdated, badly dubbed and oddly funny samurai movie in which Jimmy had starred in many years before, but this charm doesn’t hold until the film’s end. “White on Rice” centers on the shortcomings of its protagonist only to create other shortcomings in the production. Film opens in selected theaters through self distribution leaving this low-budgeter with modest theatrical prospects but it will find a wonderful life in certain forums. Still, it has enough charm to hold interest.
In this comedic story, the dinosaur and geology-loving Hajime, aka Jimmy (Hiroshi Watanabe), is a freshly-turned 40-year-old misguided odd-jobber and former Japanese featured actor (glimpsed in a mock samurai film dubbed by Bruce Campbell and Pepe Serna) who has recently moved to the U.S. after his lovely ex-wife stopped taking care of him in Tokyo and spends his time looking for a new wife. Now living with his understanding sister Aiko (Nae) and sharing a room with her ten-year-old son, child prodigy and nephew Bob (Justin Kwong), Jimmy is also a permanent torture, as well as a life-threatening obstacle, to his brother-in-law, Tak (Mio Takada). Jimmy is insensitive, juvenile and lacks all of life’s necessary skills, including all the important social skills; however, this isn’t a problem for him as he is pleasantly unaware of his personal misfortune (no real prospects for a career, love or a future) as he navigates his way through life, especially when pursuing Tak’s niece, the talented and brainy Ramona (Lynn Chen) when she moves into the household, even though she is in a relationship with Jimmy’s friend and co-worker, Tim. During all of this, Jimmy’s nephew and secret talent and passion for the piano which becomes the key to revitalizing the passion in his mom’s marriage. With the way things are going, Jimmy is convinced the best years of his life are clearly in front of him.
“White on Rice” is a pleasant film from director/co-writer Dave Boyle, his sophomore follow-up to his feature debut “Big Dreams Little Tokyo” and was filmed in the beauty of the Salt Lake City area but its charm doesn’t last to the credits. “White on Rice” is a warm, basically appealing romantic comedy about Jimmy (Hiroshi Watanabe), who is eternally optimistic, even though he can and does burst the egos of others, as he moves from one moment to another, never losing the connection with his bright outlook no matter what he faces during his journey. He finds one more reason to fuel his positive outlook when Ramona (Lynn Chen) arrives. Jimmy goes the extra mile to impress her, sometimes becoming a bit psychotic, with Ramona seeing him as a stalker; but, this is a comedy (with the romance peeking rarely above the surface) so she doesn’t pay the fact any more attention and neither do the filmmakers.
Overall, the film is enjoyable and the filmmakers show some solid comedic touches. The writing in certain scenes is as sharp and amusing as anything in a much larger budgeted Hollywood comedy (a dinner scene whereupon Jimmy has been set up with a tall Japanese date, much to his dismay, proves this point as the timing is nicely executed).
However, like many pleasant things, “White on Rice” does wear out its welcome. “White on Rice” does have its share of problems including a major tonal shift (which involves a knife and lots of blood and honestly belongs in a different genre) near the film’s end that comes close to destroying its accumulated goodwill. Aside from its problems, the film reveals a promising comedic voice in filmmaker Dave Boyle. Time will only tell whether or not that promise becomes reality. The film could have been helped with another rewrite on the script. This is where the focus could have developed this gem into a much stronger production. Jimmy is an engaging character but he would have been more effective as a featured actor, like he was in the scene form the other film at the beginning, and thereby he wouldn’t have to carry the weight of the story on his shoulders. Besides, Jimmy remains one dimensional and while it’s an entertaining note, it’s not enough to successfully encompass the thrust of the film. In looking at this production from another point of view, the stronger and more charming story would have been the reconnection of his sister and brother-in-law through their son Bob. After all, it is Nae and Mio Takada who provide the movie with its much needed heart. And, the turn towards the end with the knife should have been rewritten so that Jimmy truly was the hero, not some passerby. After all, that is how the loser finds his place in life. This leads to the bigger problem of the actual staging of the production without a distinct vision through the lens, which hurts the overall charm of this story.
The other actors are all excellent. Chen really delivers. The actress takes what was the underwritten “girl” role and makes the viewers understand why Jimmy would fall in love with her. Joy Osmanski steals what few scenes she has with a stunning performance that delivers when it could’ve been a forgotten moment in someone else’s hands.
“White on Rice” is a Tiger Industry Films release of a Brainwave, Malatova Prods., Tiger Industry production. Produced by Duane Andersen, Dominic Fratto. Executive producer, Howard Hayes. Co-producers, Michael Lerman, Meg Boyle. Directed by Dave Boyle. Screenplay, Dave Boyle, Joel Clark. Cast: Hiroshi Watanabe, Nae, Mio Takada, Lynn Chen, James Kyson Lee, Justin Kwong, Pepe Serna, Joy Osmanski, Cathy Shim, Ron D. Eliot, Bruce Campbell.
Camera (color, Super 16-to-35mm), Bill Otto; editor, Duane Andersen; music, Mark Schulz; production designer, Meg Boyle. Reviewed in Los Angeles , September 7, 2009. English, Japanese dialogue. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some violent images and sex-related humor. Theatrical Release September 11, 2009 at West Hollywood’s Sunset and the Irvine Spectrum.