"The Weekend Rent offers quick-hit suggestions of what to watch at home to get psyched for new releases in theaters, on Friday."
The widest new release in theaters this weekend is The Wolverine, in which Hugh Jackman again plays the role of the X-Man with the indestructible adamantanium claws… and even deadlier sideburns. Logan is haunted by the death of Jean Grey (seen in X-Men: The Last Stand) and gets away from everything familiar by taking off to Japan when a young woman named Yukio, who can see into the future, tracks him down.
The Wolverine's Japanese setting is based on one of the most popular story arcs from the comics. Even though we know Logan is a Canadian character, it got us thinking about American movies that feature characters traveling to Japan. Here are five of our favorites.
The Karate Kid, Part II: It was kind of inevitable that the action would move to Japan in this 1986 sequel to The Karate Kid. When Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) finds out that his father is dying, Daniel (Ralph Macchio) accompanies his mourning mentor to Okinawa. There, the Karate Kid learns the lethal "drum technique" and, in a fight to the death, shames his opponent by sparing him -- deeming him unworthy of an honorable death.
The Grudge: In the American remake of Japan's Ju-on: The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar plays an American exchange student living in Japan who takes a job as a caregiver for a social studies credit. No one tells her that she is setting foot in a haunted house where a mother and her son were murdered by her husband. We're told of curse that is born when someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage and extreme sorrow, and before you know it Gellar sees lots of stringy black hair floating around and hears an awful gurgling sound from a ghost woman who died from a crushed windpipe. Watching Gellar try to navigate the streets of Tokyo and communicate with the locals drives home the point that she is totally a fish out of water before she even sets foot in Tokyo's hell house.
Kill Bill Vol. 1: "Revenge is a dish best served cold," so when the Bride (Uma Thurman) awakens from her coma and sets out to kill the other members of the Deadly Viper squad, her first stop is in Okinawa to convince legendary swordsmith Hattori Hanzo to forge her a deadly blade. Then it's off to a Tokyo nightclub where the Bride must slice through an impressive yakuza army called the Crazy 88s before she can face her real target O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) in a battle to the death in a tranquil, snow-kissed Japanese garden.
Black Rain: This 1989 Ridley Scott action thriller stars Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia as two New York City cops who arrest a member of the yakuza and then must escort him to Japan when he is extradited back to Osaka. There, they encounter imposters who trick Douglas and Garcia into releasing their prisoner, forcing the officers to be dragged deeper into the dangerous Japanese underworld.
Lost in Translation: No list of Americans kicking around in Japan would be complete without mentioning Sofia Coppola's acclaimed 2003 dramedy about an aging movie star (Bill Murray) who develops a rapport with a recent college graduate (Scarlett Johansson) at an Americanized Tokyo hotel. We might never know what Murray whispers in Johansson's ear at the very end, but it's still fascinating to watch this odd couple navigate the neon-lit alien world of Tokyo and deal with culture shock as themes of loneliness, insomnia and existential ennui are explored.
All of the movies listed above are available on DVD and/or Blu-ray as well as various VOD services. What is your favorite American movie that features a trip to Japan?
Follow Robert B. DeSalvo @zuulboy