Japan’s Power Animal, Richard Gere

Lots of American celebrities do some work in Japan — a commercial here, a billboard there, then they pack up their bags and return back home without giving it much of a second thought.

But there’s one celebrity who goes beyond all that, whose relationship with Japan transcends mere business.

Just like Saturday Night Live’s running gag that “Germans love David Hasselhoff,” it’s recently become obvious to me that the Japan and Richard Gere are somehow deeply intertwined.

Yes Richard Gere, the American actor who’s starred in hit movies like Chicago and Pretty Woman, has some sort of deep bond with Japan that I don’t yet fully understand. No doubt about it, Gere has some strange connection with Japan, and it’s become more and more obvious to me over the years.

Appeared in Japanese Movie

Legendary and globally influential Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (of Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and every other awesome Japanese movie from the 20th century) casted Gere in one of his last films, Rhapsody in August. This was kind of an unusual move because, for most of Kurosawa’s career, the casts of his movies had been overwhelming Japanese. (I struggle to think of one other non-Japanese actor in a Kurosawa movie.)

Why Richard Gere? The answer should be obvious. Kurosawa was a trailblazer in many regards, setting trends in film for decades to come. The director undoubtedly sensed Gere’s strong connection with Japan and acted on it.

. . . Or it could be that Gere was a big name in Hollywood and had just starred in the blockbuster Pretty Woman; and I’m sure it helped that Gere offered to work for free. But I prefer to think that Kurosawa had incredible foresight.

Appears in American Remakes of Hit Japanese Movies

Not only has Richard Gere been in a Japanese film or two, but he’s appeared in multiple American remakes of popular Japanese movies. Even when he’s in the US, Richard Gere can’t help but be drawn to the Japanese.

Shall We Dance?

In 1996, a heartwarming movie was released in Japan called Shall We Dance?. It was met with overwhelmingly positive reception, earning rave reviews from critics, winning the “Picture of the Year” award at the Japanese Academy Awards, and earning millions at the box office.

You would think that all of that success would be hard to top. I mean, how can you even try to beat a blockbuster like that? Two words: Richard Gere. His 2004 remake of the same name was a box office success

Gere did it again in 2009 when he starred in the American remake of the Japanese movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, the popular story of the dog who stayed loyal even after his master’s death.

Richard Gere and puppy

Although, I suspect that his involvement in the project might have been so the sake of taking tons of promotional pictures with adorable Akita puppies rather than strengthening his deep tie with Japan.

Looks Like Ex-Japanese Prime Minister

I’ve alluded to this incontrovertible fact in the past and I would hope that it’s plainly obvious to most people, but let me make sure that we’re all on the same page: Richard Gere is a doppelgänger to ex Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. (Or is it the other way around?)

The two looks so much alike that I’m still astounded that the universe didn’t collapse upon itself after Gere and Koizumi met in 2005 during Gere’s Japanese press tour for the release of Shall We Dance?.

According to the BBC when the two met, they hit it off immediately:

Mr Koizumi took Gere’s hand in front of a roomful of journalists and asked “Shall We Dance?”- the title of Gere’s latest movie.

Gere obliged, but insisted on taking the lead, as the two twirled around the room for a few seconds.

Afterwards Gere described Mr Koizumi as “charming and spontaneous.”

Were the two separated at birth? If nothing else, I’m sure that it’s no coincidence that one of Japan’s longest-serving prime ministers and Richard Gere look so similar. Perhaps in another life, Gere was prime minister and Koizumi was the American heartthrob.

The Strange Connection

It’s clear that Richard Gere and Japan are linked in some strange way, but why is another question entirely. Who can know such things?

For now though, Gere watches over Japan like a benevolent deity, and stars in commercials where he’s mocked by small, French children.

  • FoxiBiri

    Well, does he speak Japanese?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    No, he transcends language.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    That header image gets scary

  • Inu

    “Richard Gere is a doppelgänger to ex Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. (Or is it the other way around?)”
    ahahaha xD

  • makafushigi

    At least we know who’s going to be playing Koizumi‐san in his biopic.

  • http://easteban.tumblr.com/ Esteban

    Loved it. .

  • fee_fi_Fiona

    I concur.

  • Vitor Eiji Justus Sakaguti

    “I struggle to think of one other non-Japanese actor in a Kurosawa movie.”
    Maybe I should remind you of Dersu Uzala?
    Great post, btw. I wonder if Richard Gere is as popular in Japan as Bob Sapp though…

  • http://twitter.com/NoKnownOrigin Will Leisen

    He is also a Zen Buddhist, if I remember correctly.

  • HokkaidoKuma

    He’s also a Souka Gakkai (SGI) member, which is becoming a huge religion / political mass in Japan. I liken it to the Mormonism of Japan.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    He was just about to achieve enlightenment. But who’d want that?

  • http://twitter.com/ayabuns Aya

    Can I get a hi-res version of this http://www.tofugu.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/gere-japan.jpg this needs to be my wallpaper pls pls pls

  • Mark

    And not a single mention of hamsters? WTF Tofugu…

  • Jamie

    Just to let you know, I’m not seeing any style sheet on this page, works fine on the homepage (Chrome 20.0.1132.57)
    Looks like it could be an issue with https & your security certificate

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Sorry, my phenomenal Photoshop skills are only used to better serve The Gere.

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Okay, I’m not a big movie buff, so I could be missing something, but I could have sworn that “Shall We Dance?” was originally filmed in black and white.

  • kaminix

    These days – who isn’t?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    There WAS a black and white movie called “Shall We Dance” with Fred
    Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but it’s completely unrelated to the Japanese
    movie and its American remake.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Hamsters?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Whoops, guess I’m not as well versed in Kurosawa films as I thought. My bad.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I’ve heard of SGI before, but I didn’t know that Gere was a member.

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    One thing the article forgot to mention: isn’t Gere also fluent in Japanese, too?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I don’t think so. I read that his Japanese lines in Rhapsody in August were just memorized phonetically, I don’t think he actually learned Japanese for the role.

    Then again, it’s been like thirty years since that movie was filmed, so maybe he’s picked up some Japanese along the way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/salexa25 Sarah Elizabeth Alexander

    That Orangina commercial doesn’t really make me want to drink it more, but I’m not Japanese, so go figure. I’d like to know more about Tommy Lee Jone’s Japanese connection. I feel like I see him everywhere, but maybe just because we have a lot of Boss machines in our area.