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White on Rice (2009)

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 83 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12A

There are so many hardhitting dramas around exploring racial tensions in modern day America, it’s nice to have a whimsical culture clash comedy (that doesn’t star Jackie Chan) every now and then. White on Rice is just that, if not a little lightweight, but it never tries to be anything more.

In White on Rice, the head of the household is Tak (Takada), an uptight executive who punched way above his weight by snagging his young wife Aiko (Nae) but since then the relationship has stagnated. Aiko is a flower arranger/funeral director (or something) who has allowed her brother Jimmy to stay with them. Jimmy (Watanabe) is the embarrassment of the family as he fails to hold down a job, fit into society and chat up women with consequences that make Mr Bean look like a lothario. The whole family pretty much ignores the wonderfully unemotional son Bob (Kwong), who, unknown to them, is a child prodigy at the piano. The film follows this eclectic bunch as they stumble on throughout life before trying to change and ignite their lives.

After learning Japanese and studying about the islands, Dave Boyle seems to be on a mission to bring his humorous observances on Japanese culture to the masses as this is his second Japanese themed feature length film after ‘Big Dreams Little Tokyo’. Most of the laughs revolve around the borderline mentally ill Jimmy being extremely cringeworthy around women, so it’s not exactly rocket science but it works as Watanabe has that kind of face you can laugh at. I haven’t seen any other films of his so I don’t know if he always looks like that or not but if he does then that’s plain unlucky. Also, at one point we are inappropriately encouraged to laugh at a horrifically tall Japanese girl (because, you know, the rest of them are little blighters, of course) – I didn’t think you were still allowed to do that but, hey, it’s funny. White on Rice is pretty similar to the Oscar nominee A Serious Man but a lot less sophisticated, however this is where I feel this has the edge, because, at the end of the day, it’s a comedy which is there to make you laugh, not think too hard.

It's Got: No Jackie Chan, plenty of laughs, likeable characters.

It Needs: A little more even spread of laughs.


A gentle culture clash comedy that’s easy on the brain. Dave Boyle packs in likeable characters and clever observational humour.