Big In Japan is an Australian documentary by Walking Fish Productions following three best friends, Lachy, Louis and Dave as they embark on an international mission to try make their friend famous in Japan. The documentary is a combination social experiment and observation on the evolution of fame.
We follow the boys as they take up teaching in jobs in Japan and focus on their project to help make Dave famous. The title of the film “Big In Japan” is actually term that describes Western success in Japan, despite being relatively unknown everywhere else. While Dave and his friends try to find ways to make him famous, they also cross paths with other individuals that are at different points of their own fame journey.
Kelsey Parnigoni is a Canadian young lady who desires to become a Japanese idol. An ‘idol’ is a term used in Japan to describe young budding stars marketed to be admired for their cuteness. This is completely different to a musician or artist as idols don’t really play instruments or are known for their creative talents. Idols are more known as objects of fanatical devotion. The average idol career starts from pre-teen and usually ends by the time the idol reaches their twenties. By this age, one is considered ‘too old’ to be an idol. When Dave meets Kelsey in the film, she is already quite ‘old’ for the idol market but continues to strive for her goal to become a successful in Japan. Kelsey’s story is something that I couldn’t really comprehend nor understand. Not that I didn’t understand what she wanted to achieve, but the sacrifices to get to where she wanted, with idols not being allowed to date or have relationships, to me sounded absurd.
Bob Sapp who is a professional wrestler, actor and former American football player has become famous in Japan for his character ‘The Beast’. Bob’s point of fame is at the pinnacle of his own ‘Big In Japan’ journey where everyone wants a picture with him and he attends every event that he can to the point of his own detriment. Although somewhat intimidating, Bob Sapp is kind, open and quick to befriend Dave, taking him under his wing and showing him both sides of fame. While Bob seemed very successful in the film, his career in the spotlight felt more like a job and not particularly something that he enjoyed. This was different with Lady Beard, another foreigner who crosses paths with Dave, finding success on Japanese shores.
Lady Beard, real name Richard Magarey is an Australian professional wrestler, stunt actor, metal vocalist and cross-dressing Japanese idol. It is hard not to love Lady Beard; with pigtails, a beard, an infectious smile and cute Japanese Lolita dresses. Richard Magarey’s idol persona isn’t feminine yet stands out and is widely accepted by the Japanese community, with some fans stating that they love Lady Beard as she/he has ‘girl power’. Unlike the other individuals that Dave has crossed, Lady Beard loves being famous and thrives on the love, admiration, attention and support of his fans. This is someone who genuinely enjoys what he does and lives to bask in the spotlight.
This happiness that Lady Beard has wasn’t always available to him. During a deep and meaningful conversation, Richard discusses with Dave that when he was younger and lived in Australia, he was overweight and bullied, and only when he started cross-dressing at parties did he find a key to a better life and happiness, as well as the beginning of an adventure to become the the best version of himself, as we now have all witnessed. While Lady Beard’s journey broke my heart to the point where I wanted to give him a hug, it was comforting to know that this individual has worked hard and gained the greatest success in becoming ‘Big In Japan’. Lady Beard now being a metal and J-pop singer with band mate Reika Saiki in their Japanese Kawaii metal idol duo, Deadlift Lolita travel the world exerting happiness.
Back to Dave’s journey, during his over two-year stint with his friends, Dave does manage to have some success, getting professional acting jobs in commercials and being recognised on the street at some point during his time abroad for his own idol personas “Mr Jonsu” and “Onigiri-man”. Dave’s attitude slowly changes throughout the film from being keen and willing to give anything a go, to becoming frustrated and tired of trying. At one point when the boys are about to head back home to Australia, Dave questions his mates, “What have we achieved?” inferring that perhaps their entire time spent in Japan was wasted. However, after watching Big In Japan, I believe that it wasn’t.
Through all the crazy adventures, the chaos and antics, Dave, Lachy and Louis have combined their footage to create a brilliant film. A time capsule for their experiences in Japan with a perfect observation on the highs and lows of fame. I loved the directing and cinematography as it gave audiences a view of Dave through the eyes of his mates that playful adore him, and the narrative that Dave provides which in the end felt like a story being shared between friends.
I laughed, I cried, I was moved, I was surprised and then I laughed some more. What I took from this film was that it is emotionally draining and exhausting being in the spotlight, but it is also exhausting to ‘try’ reach the spotlight in the first place. While the possibility of being widely accepted by the world does sound attractive and does work for some like Lady Beard, Dave makes a very great point in the end that one can have a happy existence by just being ordinary. And I full heartedly agree.