New Emissary

A Weak Inception Reception?

The hit seems to be lagging in Japan, despite things like Ken Watanabe’s star power.

Less than a month since its world premiere in the UK, sci-fi thriller Inception has already taken in over $170 million internationally and with particularly strong showings continuing in countries like South Korea and Australia, seems to be on a steady route toward international blockbuster status. But the film still has a ways to go before matching Director Christopher Nolan’s popular past works including 2005’s Batman Begins, which grossed $352 million internationally, or 2008’s The Dark Knight that according to the Internet Movie Database currently stands as the sixth-highest grossing film of all time worldwide, having raked in over a billion dollars in ticket sales.

Meanwhile over in Japan, surprisingly, although Inception took top spot in box office standings its premiere weekend, it quickly slipped down in rankings to the fourth spot this past weekend below Japanese anime film Karigurashi No Arrietty, Toy Story 3 and Angelina Jolie’s debut action flick Salt.

This seems strange considering Japan’s adoration of Inception star Leonardo DiCaprio, whose face appears often in adverts and whose trips to the country often get mainstream media coverage (including standard shots of the hoards of screaming local female fans). Furthermore, not only does part of the film take place in Tokyo, it also stars Ken Watanabe, one of the few Japanese actors who have successfully crossed over into visible roles in American films.

So I recently spoke to a writer and film critic based in Japan who reviewed Inception for one of the country’s major publications for more on the topic, and he had some light to shed on why, possibly, it hasn’t gotten as big a reception as might have been expected.

He reminded me that although Tokyo is indeed featured as a location in the film, the scenes of the city are minimal, ‘consisting mainly of some aerial shots during an early scene when Watanabe and DiCaprio are flying over it in a helicopter,’ and that the scenes from inside the helicopter were even possibly shot ‘on a sound stage in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the world.’

When I asked him why more Japanese wouldn’t see Ken Watanabe in such a major role as something worth admiring, he told me that certainly, Watanabe does have a ‘much better and bigger role’ in Inception than he did in Nolan’s Batman Begins, in which his character was ‘a stereotypical wispy-bearded martial arts sage who disappeared early on, and was later revealed as a "mask" being worn by a white guy.’

But, he told me that having a Japanese character in a position of prominence or authority in a film just isn’t now enough to get the crowds excited. He mentioned also that while he felt the movie as a whole was good, that none of the characters are very deeply developed and that he enjoyed watching Watanabe more in his small role in the film Crique du Freak.