“White On Rice” Brings the Flavor

The idea of bunk beds, snooping through diaries and wandering through dinosaur museums rarely conjures an image of anyone older than 12 or 13. But in the case of “White on Rice,” the second cinematic release of American director Dave Boyle, 40 seems to be the appropriate age.

A hilarious story about a freshly divorced 40-year-old named Jimmy, (Hiroshi Watanabe), “White on Rice” successfully walks the tightrope between charming and obnoxious. Newly single Jimmy moves to the U.S. to live with his sister Aiko, brother-in-law, Tak, and 10-year-old nephew, Bob, in hopes of starting a new life — one that he deems will be better than his last. That is, assuming that he finds a replacement for his ex-wife.

Though he is a middle-aged divorcé living with his younger sister, working at a dead-end job in customer service and taking relationship advice from a prepubescent boy, Jimmy’s ignorance of his social faux pas — reminiscent ofAndy in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” — serves as the fuel for his optimism.

While Jimmy’s search for a new wife seems to be a lost cause, it begins to move forward (in his eyes at least) when Tak’s beautiful and americanized niece, Ramona, moves into the spare room. Truly believing that he can woo Ramona by creepily sketching a portrait of her and teaching her about dinosaurs, Jimmy begins to make the audience fall in love with his innocent and clueless charm.

The formula that works so well with Watanabe’s character is the gradual cancellation of his obnoxious mannerisms through his genuine desire for love; although one might by annoyed by his lack of awareness, it is soon overshadowed by his dedication to winning Ramona’s heart.

Thankfully, the humor and the storyline of the film do not rest entirely on the protagonist’s shoulders. The film works equally well as an ensemble piece. As Aiko and Tak try to regain their son’s warmth, Bob helps Jimmy pursue Ramona, and Ramona rekindles an old flame with Jimmy’s coworker Tim, they work together to spin an entertaining web of familial conflicts.

While all of these strings seem to be going in different directions, they all share one destination in common: love, and all the various definitions of it. Now, while this movie could have easily become just another cheesefest movie, Boyle keeps it real by redefining the word “love.” First he shows the never-ending quest for love through Jimmy’s search for a new wife, then he adds in Bob’s love for music as well as Aiko and Tak’s love for their family.

My favorite aspect of this quirky film is the contrast between Jimmy and his nephew, Bob, played by newcomer Justin Kwong. Bob plays a beyond mature 10-year-old musical prodigy, and completely contradicts the behavior of Jimmy in an almost robotic manner. Bob has already started his own business, and at one point even lends his hard-earned money to his Uncle Jimmy. The dissimilarity between the two is even displayed in their names!

Why do I like this feature so much? The reversal of roles in a typical coming-of-age story offers not only a comedic twist in watching a grown man taking backseat to a young boy, but shows a heartwarming bond between uncle and nephew. While most young boys would be embarrassed and impatient with Jimmy’s lack of social knowledge, Bob effortlessly displays his maturity and offers his help without question.

Something that might attract UC Irvine students to “White on Rice” is the cultural relevance of this Japanese man living in America. Common cultural misunderstandings and linguistic misconstructions tugged a familiar chuckle out of me since I had heard it all before with my own family.

All in all, Boyles’ “White on Rice” is an entertaining and endearing indie film. I will warn, however, that if subtitles and FOB humor aren’t quite your cup of tea, you may be squirming in your seat a few minutes in. And while it may get slow in a few parts of the film (the concept of man overcoming personal quirks in order to find love isn’t exactly a jaw-dropping discovery), the simple humor makes up for it. The script’s attention to tiny details might make you wonder how such a minimal and no-frills joke could make you laugh and quote it later in the lobby of the movie theater.