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Memphis Flyer Excellent Night in Osaka

Add booze and a language barrier to a hyped-up culture, and what do you get?

By Paul Gerald

MARCH 6, 2000:  Japan is a very strange place. Its countryside is disappearing, and its cities are like American cities jacked on steroids and blasted way into the future. Everything is lit up all the time, subway trains are so crowded they have people whose job is to literally pack passengers onto the trains, and space is so restricted that malls are vertical instead of horizontal.

It only gets stranger if you come to Japan straight from Nepal. I had been up in the Himalayas for a month when I landed in Osaka. In less than two days I went from a village that just got running water three years ago to a city where you can buy cold beer and warm saki in vending machines. I had left the 12th century and arrived in the 22nd.

I was there to visit friends who were teaching English. The foreigners, or gaijin, in Japan, live a strange kind of underworld life. Japanese people, especially the young ones, consume our culture voraciously -- Budweiser and Coke and Disney are everywhere, and Japanese girls are obsessive about tanning booths -- but they seem to have little use for us as actual people. Gaijin in Japan, at least the young and transient ones I was there to visit, often have trouble getting cabs, and people won't sit next to them on subways; their attire (normal by American standards) makes them look like hobos in a country where everybody seems to be in business suits all the time, and the women are spoken of as if they're all whores.

My friends, people who were in the early- to mid-20s, had a simple reaction to this: Rebel. They were only there for a year or so, raising money to galavant around Asia, so who cares if the locals think they're insane? They only worked a few hours a day, and seemed to spend the rest of their time drinking. They couldn't afford to travel, so their entertainment consisted of going out and getting crazy.

It was into this madness that I was plunged, still wondering if it really was okay to drink the water. I arrived mid-afternoon, and was told, "We're going to see a movie tonight -- Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure!" I had never heard of it, but it sounded like fun. We stopped at the first Kirin machine on the street and started, well, getting loaded.

A pack of Westerners moving down the street in Osaka creates something of a stir, especially if they have a subconscious desire to do exactly that. In our group of 15 or so were Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, English, Germans, and one guy from Scotland. One can only imagine how their English-language students must have sounded.

The movieplex, like the malls, was vertical. In a mall, you get into an elevator and push the button for which store you want to visit. Our plex was a six-screener, one on top of the other. So we piled into the elevator and pushed Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

We arrived in a packed and chattering theater, which went silent upon our noisy arrival. We found seats near each other and giggled as several people quietly moved away from us. Then the movie started.

Now, think about Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. This is a movie whose comedy is based entirely on the way the two main idiots talk. But one person in our group, who was fluent in Japanese, said some of the locals around us seemed to think it was some kind of science-fiction adventure involving time travel. Beyond that, it was subtitled in Japanese, as opposed to dubbed.

So within five minutes of the opening, all of us were exploding with laughter -- at the insanity of the movie (being drunk makes it funnier) and at the somewhat confused muttering all around us. The ultimate scene was this one:

Bad Guy: Take them to the Iron Maiden! Bill and Ted: Excellent! Bad Guy: And kill them! Bill and Ted: Bogus!

This just about killed us. But the locals saw it, at the bottom of the screen, this way:

Bad Guy: Take them to the Metal Woman! Bill and Ted: That's great! Bad Guy: And kill them! Bill and Ted: That's bad!

By the time the kid in the movie said Napoleon "was a dick," we had all become Bills and Teds, and locals were streaming out of the place, wondering why a great historical figure being called a penis by a little kid was so funny to the freaks in the back.

We, of course, didn't particularly care what anybody thought. We were, like, totally stoked, dudes -- oh, and "dude" was being translated as "fancy person." So, actually, we were "similar to stirred up, fancy people."

On this extremely good night in Osaka, all we wanted was to continue the celebration, fellow fancy people -- I mean, on this most excellent night in Osaka, all we wanted was to party on, dudes!

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