Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald is a 1997 Japanese movie, produced for approximately $17 and a continental breakfast, about a midnight radio drama, written by a contest-winning housewife, and her head-on collision with The Powers That Be. It is entirely charming, being by turns funny, poignant, grim, and sometimes simply giddy, without ever sinking to the level of melodrama. (The same cannot be said for the radio-drama-within-the-movie.) It is not a movie that is very interested in being a movie. You will not find any of the self-conscious auteurs’ gimmicks, jerky camera work and/or storytelling, or the expensive, meticulously realized settings that pull down American Academy Awards these days. In fact, it looks like the production team would have been grateful to get the same budget as, say, your average episode of Father Ted, and the balance of effort was obviously dedicated to securing a strong cast (including a young Ken Watanabe). Moving almost in real time, the movie more closely resembles a stage play — or, for that matter, a radio drama — than a blockbuster film. Early on, it even derides its own medium in favor of radio, because, says the demi-villain producer Ushijima, “With radio, you can go as far as the imagination itself.” The Japanese nevertheless rewarded this enthusiastically simply movie with three Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and widespread box office success.
Yes, I admit, I am already very partial to any movie about radio. I am heavily invested in radio, because I have been laboriously leading production on my own radio drama, Starship Excelsior, since 2007. (Indeed, work on Excelsior‘s next episode is the main reason my posts on De Civitate have slowed down during the past few weeks.) I’ve grown to love the medium, and so should you, and Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald is certain to help get you listening to modern online radio drama. It even managed to make me see the value in foley art, which I had long since discarded as a crude vestige of a less technologically advanced era. I now see that the rise of the BBC Sound Effects Library and its brethren have made our jobs easier… but also a little less human, and more than a little less distinct.
But I’m not just recommending this movie because I’m a radiophile. It is a genuinely lovely little movie, like Noises Off! but with more heart. I know this isn’t a very thorough review, but go get it. You’ll thank me.
At this point, I would normally include a trailer, but none appears to exist. Indeed, all online footage of it appears to be from the Korean market. Here, instead, is a one-minute random clip from the movie, with Korean subtitles:
(Incidentally, I don’t mean to slam American movies: I want to see The Artist, loved The King’s Speech, and will happily maintain until the day I die that Wallace & Grommit should have won Best Picture in 2005. But American audiences would likely not accept Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald en masse, which was my point. If I wanted to be mean to the Academy, I’d have mentioned Babel.)