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Japan and Japanese in BIG HERO 6

With my free trial month of Netflix running out soon, I recently received BIG HERO 6 in the mail. I kept hearing about this adorable animated movie and as a fan of animated films and Japanese-anything, I thought it would be a winner.

I lived in Japan for a year during college and also worked at MTV-Japan. This tends to make
me very, very picky about anything Japanese on-screen. (Grr, don’t even get me started about
LOST IN TRANSLATION.)

I think everyone “gets” the word play in Hero/Hiro in the movie. Hiro is a common Japanese
boy’s name and of course in English hero means, well, hero. (You don’t need me to be a
human dictionary for you if you’ve gotten this far.) The tv show Heroes used this same
convention with Masi Oka’s character, Hiro.

At the beginning of the movie, Hiro fights at an underground bot-fighting ring. The reigning
champion (and big meenie) is named Yama. This is definitely a language-based inside joke
because Yama means Mountain in Japanese.

Well, it only does sometimes. Japanese is perhaps the most complicated language on Earth in
that there are three alphabets and to get the true meaning of a word you need to see the word
written out because it’s the characters that are used which provide the meaning. The inside
jokers knew that and, to make things completely clear to eagle-eyed, Japanese-speaking
viewers, when Yama turns his back in the movie you see the Japanese character for Mountain
on his jacket. This character is what assures us beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are
making a joke—Yama the large man is like a large mountain. (Want to know more about
complicated Japanese? There is a different way to count depending on what you are counting.
So, you count people differently than you count animals, round objects, flat objects, or days of
the month—the list goes on. I wish I were joking.)

Although there are lots of other presumed jokes about names in the movie, Yama is the only
one that can be confirmed since we never actually see the Japanese characters for the other
names during the movie.

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Beyond this fun bit of Japanese language trivia, though, I can’t figure out why the movie was set in pseudo-Japan, or more specifically that in-between land of San Fransokyo. How did this
possibly contribute to the movie? The characters were drawn to be (semi) ethnically diverse.
The city looked like any large city. The characters spoke unaccented English (except for one
who was specifically from somewhere else, though where was never specified). What did they
gain by using this made up place? Why did it involve Japan at all? I know this movie was
lossely based on a comic, but there are about a million differences between the movie and the
comic—including the location—so that wasn’t the reason for it, either. Things like this baffle me.

In case you’re wondering how I liked the movie itself, though—I enjoyed it. It seemed like a bit of a mish-mash of other movies you’ve certainly seen but it fit my biggest criteria for if I like
a movie or not: if I feel good at the end—which I did.

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-Zoe Hewitt
*Stay in touch with Zoe here.*

If you haven’t experienced BIG HERO 6 you can check it out now on Amazon.com.

Zoe thinks leaving a movie feeling happy is the number one aspect in determining if a movie is good or not. She works as a host and loves interviewing people from all walks of life, including celebrities like Diane Keaton, Elton John and Kate Winslet. Zoe spent a year living in Japan and loves practicing her Japanese, horseback riding and sewing in her spare time.
About Zoe Hewitt (11 Articles)
Zoe thinks leaving a movie feeling happy is the number one aspect in determining if a movie is good or not. She works as a host and loves interviewing people from all walks of life, including celebrities like Diane Keaton, Elton John and Kate Winslet. Zoe spent a year living in Japan and loves practicing her Japanese, horseback riding and sewing in her spare time.

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