Yamakawa (Frankie Sakai) and Nakai (Tadao Takashima) are salesmen working for Tokyo firm Towa Tours, which is seeking to secure lucrative American travel contracts over rival Kyokuto Tours. When the president’s daughter Yoko (Izumi Yukimura) takes over their department, she brings with her a no-nonsense American style to the business – and kicks off a string of deception, romance, and desperate ventures.
You Can Succeed, Too! is a wonderfully energetic, bright, and funny musical comedy. Directed by Eizo Sugawa, it strikes me as one of Japan’s most enjoyable corporate conflict films – a strange sub-genre of both comedy and drama that stems from the economic booms of the 1950s and 1960s. With both economy and industry making enormous leaps and bounds following the post-war reconstruction period, that energy transferred from business to entertainment. Yasuzo Masumura in particular found great fodder for both drama and comedy in Japan’s new corporate world; the former with Black Test Car (1962) and the latter with Giants and Toys (1958). With You Can Succeed, Too! Sugawa reveals a third entertaining angle on the material.
There is a certain genius to telling a story about a cultural obsession with America via one of the most iconic genres of American cinema: the musical. It is not a form of cinema that Japanese filmmakers and studios have typically embraced. While there are some musical films from Japan’s early sound period – Kenji Mizoguchi’s Hometown (1930) is a prominent example – and more recent years have seen post-modern takes – see Sion Sono’s Tokyo Tribe (2014) or Tetsuya Nakashima’s Memories of Matsuko (2006) – the format never seemed to find the mainstream appeal and commercial success that it did in the USA. By copying such a famous style of motion picture, yet providing it with more culturally specific lyrics, You Can Succeed, Too! gains a freshness and an energy that is almost unique to this film.
The film’s songs come courtesy of jazz musician Toshiro Mayuzumi and poet Shuntaro Tanikawa. Mayuzumi’s music riffs wonderfully off the American musical tradition, while Tanikawa’s lyrics bear a strong Japanese feel and a lightly satirical edge. There are two definite highlights, one a spirited ode to how great the character think America is and the other a mass lament by a horde of drunken salarymen. This is pretty much the only film of its kind that Japan produced, and that’s a deep shame.
The cast is led by the always-wonderful Frankie Sakai, a jazz drummer turned comedian turned actor: best known for his work in Sun in the Last Days of the Shogun, Mothra, and others, he absolutely kills in this kind of a film. Co-stars Tadao Takashima and Izumi Yukimura are able players, but lack Sakai’s immediate comedic charm.
The screenplay deftly weaves a series of romances and misunderstandings. The president of the company secretly keeps a demanding lover and exploits Nakai to keep it a secret. This leads to confusion for Yoko, who is attracted to Nakai but thinks he is dating what is actually her father’s lover. Yamakawa is desperate to impress, but keeps circling back to flirting with a local restaurateur. While Eizo Sugawa and Toshiro Ide’s script is certainly busy, it manages to keep all of the balls it juggles in the air. All-up the film makes for a glorious confection. Make no mistake: this is a one-of-a-kind minor classic. It is the sort of film that deserves to be known beyond the confines of its language and age.