Tokyo Damage Report



HAPPY FLIGHT is a Japanese movie about people working for the real-life ANA (All Nippon Airways). Saw it on TV. Sucked. But in an interesting way: It teaches about the slightly Orwellian Japanese version of product placement.
Since Dragnet in the ’60s, American TV and movies have done product placement: The LAPD let the TV producers use their facilities, and in return the TV show tried to make LAPD look good. OK, we know how that goes. And maybe Coke will pay Universal studios 10,000 to have Terminator drink a Coke or something. But Japan takes product placement in movies in a whole nother direction, one which ties in to the whole capitalist-communist, artisinal-society thing I’m constantly blogging about these days.
Imagine a flim about the various employees of ANA. A romantic comedy if you will. Romantic comedy adventure, sure why not. Just covering all the bases – it’s good business.
But! Romantic comedy adventure. . . documentary?!? Yep. 
Not only does HAPPY FLIGHT give you a narrative full of suspense, sight gags, and flirty glances, but they also try to show you behind the scenes at a real-life airline. Kind of like the only-in-Japan talk shows where they make celebrities help you watch a documentary about zucchini planting or Thai villages. Sort of a “Let’s make learning fun!” thing. HAPPY FLIGHT shows you the struggles of ANA workers and how they ganbarre! and try dilligently to become the best workers they can be.
This goes beyond the Western idea of product-placement-as-advertising. The producers of HAPPY FLIGHT don’t just want you to fly on ANA, they want you to appreciate and sympathize with ANA, learn about the nuts-and-bolts of ANA, and the significant contributions ANA makes to Japanese society.
Now imagine if this romantic comedy adventure documentary turned into . . .a romantic comedy adventure documentary ETIQUETTE FILM. That’s right.
Throughout the film there are scenes depicting customers acting badly, breaking the rules or being selfish, and it humorously shows how these customers make life hard for the ANA workers. So again: not product placement in the Western sense. It’s actually training you on how to be a good customer. (Just like the book 'Rules of Being a Better Lady' – about how to be a good customer of your local gigolo/host club. Which I translated into English)
And if you think, “Are Japanese nuts? Who goes out on a Friday night with their date and $40 in their pocket, and thinks, “Hey sweetie, why don’t we spend this $40 on an airline documentary?” “Well, only if we can improve our manners!” “Rad! Last one to the ticket counter is a rotten egg!”” . . . then you’re wrong – Japanese aren't nuts. They don't want that any more than you do. It’s pretty clear the director didn’t want to waste much time on those aspects, and the film was not that successful. So why was it made?
Here’s where I can wedge in my “Japan’s capitalist/communist command economy” rant. My guess is, some powerful beuracrat or Cabinet minister owns a large chunk of ANA. And the same dude owns a large chunk of the movie studio. And he figured, “Hey, why not use one to promote the other?” And so a golf game or hostess club excursion was scheduled with the studio head and lo – HAPPY FLIGHT.
Also, HAPPY FLIGHT reflects another aspect of Japanese society: the idea that profit is not that important – compared to duty. People simply ought to have better manners! People ought to be more patriotic and appreciate Japanese companies. Airline employees ought to try harder. This movie needed to be made, regardless if anyone was clamoring for it – It’s the responsibility of business and government to work together to build better citizens. And it’s the responsibility of citizens to see HAPPY FLIGHT. 
For your further enlightenment, here is a  ACCESS-UP, a website which I discovered while searching for graphics for this rant: this site will blow your mind! It’s a super-detailed demographic report on HAPPY FLIGHT which shows that it was not very popular (someone was not doing their patriotic duty to support the Minister!). But it actually has comments and reviews from real Japanese people, which look like they have been auto-translated. Who is this website for?!?!? Why in English? And, do these comments back up what I have been saying, or do they make a fool of me? You’ll have to click to find out.

 Also it has every other Japanese movie ever. Prepare to waste your whole day.
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5 Comments so far

  1. erious February 22nd, 2011 9:14 pm

    There are tons of movies that are from the start never meant to be good or achieve any kind of financial success besides breaking even(and sometimes not even that) made everywhere – and somehow, the idea of making them this sort of propaganda-but-not-really is sort of endearing. 
    And hell, the documentary parts seem like they would only improve this one.
    That site you found is quite interesting – it's not only about movies in general, but it's an English version of a Japanese website that aggregates incredible amount of data about movies, tv shows, manga, games and novels. Some of the information is gathered automatically from other services, at least some is original to the site. And it's all so thoroughly Japanese – from the site design to thinking that automatically translated reviews might be useful to anyone and the links to all the merchandise. I didn't know it before, though I did use some similar, more specialized Japanese database websites.

  2. TB In Tokyo February 23rd, 2011 11:50 pm

    I quite enjoyed the movie. It showed what life is really like working in the industry. They could have just as easily used a fictional company but by using ANA ( JAL declined due to their bankruptcy troubles), it gave the viewers better way to connect to the characters.
    Please stop being so cynical all the time and try to enjoy Japanese entertainment without trying to find an evil angle in everything.

  3. admin February 24th, 2011 10:14 am

    @tb: word?

  4. François February 24th, 2011 11:25 pm

    Yeah, you're right, Mr/Ms. TB. Shame on you, Mr. Schultzy.
    Shitz 4 real.
    ANA representz !

  5. Sarah February 25th, 2011 4:36 pm

    Don't listen Schultzy! Question everything! Question me telling you to question everything – what's in it for me?
    oh yeah, entertainment value. I would never have thought of a movie quite like this being made, and I wouldn't have heard of it if not for you. Thanks for the strange little windows on the world you keep opening.

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