“Tokyo Cowboy” : Exclusive Interview with Director Marc Marriott and Producer Brigham Taylor

“Tokyo Cowboy” :  Exclusive Interview with Director Marc Marriott and Producer Brigham Taylor

Synopsis : Brash businessman Hideki convinces his Tokyo bosses he can turn a profitless Montana cattle ranch into a premiere-performing asset. However, when his Japanese Wagyu-beef expert fails him, Hideki is poised to fail unless he identifies a missing element that’s key to the transformation: himself.

Genre: Western, Comedy, Drama
Original Language: Japanese, English
Director: Marc Marriott
Runtime: 1h 58m

Exclusive Interview with Director Marc Marriott and Producer Brigham Taylor


Q: You used to live in Japan — how long ago was that?

Marc Marriot: I lived in Japan a little more than 30 years ago for two years. I was there as a missionary. I returned to Japan to work with director Yoji Yamada. And I did an apprenticeship with him on the “Tora-san” film series.

Q: Are we talking about after Kyoshi Atsumi died? “Tora-san, Welcome Back!” film?

Marc Marriot: No, this was 30 years ago when he was alive. And that was the 42nd film in the Tora series.

Q: Wow, that’s quite history there. How much did your Japanese cultural experience influence the making of this movie?

Marc Marriot: One of the big influences was Yoji Yamada. His films are really heartfelt. They deal with the human condition and are funny and charming. They’re really inspirational to me. I took a cue from that, but also from my own experience living there in Japan. It made me listen more and  pay more attention to another culture — to respect another culture and its people. I really came to love the people in Japan. That had a big impact on me.

Shortly after I returned from this apprenticeship with director Yoji Yamada, I saw an article in a magazine that was about a ranch in Montana owned by a Japanese company. They would send Japanese workers over to Montana to learn ranching and kind of become cowboys. I just thought that was a really fascinating jumping-off  point for a fish-out-of-water story — a clash of cultures. It was really intriguing to me, but, definitely, my time in Japan had a big impact on me and it changed me profoundly. It influenced the kind of stories that I wanted to tell.

Q: Brigham, you worked with films like “Tron: Legacy,” “The Jungle Book,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and “Tomorrowland.” You’ve been working with such big films, what was in Dave Boyle’s book that stirred your interest? What was the concept when you started developing the film’s original script?

Brigham Taylor: As Marc mentioned, he had been thinking about this idea, this concept, for a long time. When he and I first started talking about it just a few years ago, it was a time to focus on who the characters were and what the specific journey was going to be. We spent some time together, just the two of us talking about it and getting an outline together. After we came up with the concept of who the character of Iggy was, [we did] that outline.

We shared that outline —of what he was really going  to face when he came to this country — with Dave Boyle because he’s multilingual and multicultural. He’s done all these films that have cross-referenced both America and Japan. Wet felt he might have a feel for this material. But he also asked if he could help us find another writer that could co-write it who was actually from Japan because we wanted to ensure that it felt accurate and authentic.

So he collaborated multiple times in the past with Ayako [Fujitani]. He invited her in so that the writing team was born out of those conversations. It was a very different type of creative development in terms of the demands of this kind of story versus the kinds of stories I mostly worked on in development. But that was also part of the fun; the challenge and what was so refreshing about working on this film.

@Tokyo Cowboy

Q: I didn’t know that you can’t grow Wagyu(Wagyu is the collective name for the four principal Japanese breeds of beef cattle) in U.S, it’s illegal, and I didn’t  know some people grow Wagyu before they were prohibited in the U.S, that’s why Wagyu beef in U.S are relatively cheap compare to Japanese ones. How much did you research about this subject? It’s critical and important.

Marc Marriot: Absolutely. Kudos to our screenwriters because I know that Dave and I did a lot of research to find out about beef and the history of it. We had had different conversations at times, even even considering the possibility of maybe not having this set on a, on a ranch, maybe not doing a story about [regular] beef and Japanese wagyu beef. We kept coming back to it because of the idea of this Japanese cowboy, the ranch, the iconic images of ranching and cattle drives. All those things brought us back to this idea and we’re really glad that we did use this storyline. There’s actually a restaurant  — well, not a restaurant — but a steak store in Tokyo called “Tokyo Cowboy Way” that sells fine wagyu cuts.

Marc Marriot: It was kind of a find, that’s the real wagyu over there.

Brigham Taylor: We have these general ideas that we’d like to pursue, but the writers are the ones that dug into details and came up with the details that you find in a movie about the American herds versus the Japanese ones. A lot of the processes and things that we learned about was because of their research.  It was important to feel it was authentic and that we were talking about the plight of actual ranchers that is very current in this country and how hard it is for them to run their businesses.

Q: Talk about the casting. You guys cast a very solid Japanese actor Arata Iura, Jun Kunimura and Ayako Fujitani. What was the process of casting? It’s such a wonderful cast with great members from Japan.

Marc Marriot: We had great fortune of being connected through Dave, a producer in Japan named Mario Amaga, who is one of our executive producers. We soon learned that casting in Japan is quite different from casting here in the States. [You have to] go through people’s connections. Also, we also found that they cast very far in advance — like almost a year in advance. We had seen a number of different people’s tapes. Arata was absolutely my first choice from the very beginning and we were just hoping that he would be interested and like the material in the script. We contacted him through Mario Amaga and he was immediately interested. We were so grateful, but then he told us that he wouldn’t be available for like eight months.

Q: He’s one of the busiest actors in Japan. 

Marc Marriot: We were grateful that he was interested and then we had to make that decision. We’re very glad that we did wait for him. And then with Jun Kimura, it was also a really interesting and fun experience to find him because most of the roles that Jun plays are a little scarier, [maybe even] a lot more scary. He plays these kinds of harsh, scary characters and Wada is a character who’s very warm and humorous but when we saw some of the performances of Jun, we felt like there was something more, maybe a side of him that audiences hadn’t seen.

We set up a Zoom meeting once he said he was interested.  When we met with him on Zoom, we could tell right away that, in person, he’s very much that type of warm individual, very funny and warm. We knew that he would be able to do it. When he showed up in America to do the part, one of his first concerns was, he was saying that this was so different from the characters he had played. He really blew us away. Brigham And I was saying to him, “Jun, this is exactly who you are. All you have to do is play yourself.”

@Tokyo Cowboy

Q: It’s so completely different from what he usually plays. it’s such a great transition and nice to see that there’s a different type of character in his brain. Talk about choosing a public lunch in Montana. I don’t know if you got shot in Montana. Could you talk about location scouting on this? Talk about choosing the right location.

Brigham: One of the first contacts we made was reaching out to a local locations manager, Rob,  who lives in Montana. Friends recommended him. Marc was first to contact him. He said, “Sure, come on out,” and we jumped on a plane. We flew to Bozeman and drove out to a town called Livingston about 20 minutes away. He proceeded to take us down a little highway into Paradise Valley and took us right to the O’Hare ranch, which has been in the family  for over 100 years. We walked around there for the next 30 minutes or more, looked inside the barn structures, the fields; we looked up to the mountains and around the river.

If you’ve seen the movie, you can see that [it seemed sacred]. We knew almost immediately that we found probably the greatest location we could have. It had everything we needed. On top of that, it was just incredibly picturesque. It was beautiful. It had history to it. We barely credit the art department. So much of it was there, intact. In addition to that, up and down that valley, all these other locations that we needed were virtually right there. So after one plane ride, we had 2.5 days or so scheduled within a day. We found virtually every location we needed for the American side. That was just a great inspiration on his part and extremely lucky on our part that we found everything pretty much as it is.

Marc Marriot: We didn’t have to touch much and not only did we find this incredible location of Paradise Valley and Livingston, but we were also so fortunate to get some really great local crew members. We made contact later through with Jerry Rafter, who’s a local producer there in Montana and she held the key to all of the local crew. That was another amazing find. The people there, all the people we interacted and had the pleasure of meeting in Montana were just amazing.

Q: What’s fascinating about this film is that there are little tidbits of a Japanese story and an American story, such as the suitcase got lost at the airport, size of the drinks is big even if you order small, American don’t do business talk when they are drinking. You really balance that well in this film.

Marc Marriot: I’m so glad that you would say that. It was really important to us to have this entire film grounded and authentic. Having the voices of Dave and I, and also the story that we had planned out, it was really important to get these details right. A lot of this he [Jun] was actually experiencing this same journey as the character when he showed up because he doesn’t speak a lot of English. He came to America, to Montana, not having that experience. We tried also to use some of that, some of his experience. We talked with him to make sure that there were little details in there that make it feel really authentic. That was really important to us.

Brigham Taylor: A lot of the details you picked out were discussed from the first conversation. We had a lot of the stuff that Marc had lived through in his own experience, living abroad and seeing that country through his lens and then vice versa. So little moments like in a convenience store that’s very much honest. What the movie is about is bridging this gap that exists sometimes between cultures and languages and finding this commonality. Those little moments were as important as any bigger plot ideas that went into the script.

Q: Speaking of authenticity, did you add any additional element to the script that you actually experienced in Japan — a similar isolation like Hideki did? Talk about your experience that you added to the film.

Marc Marriot: Some of our initial conversations were really telling a story about a character that’s not connected to anything, the land or his fiance. It definitely was my experience going to Japan, but it’s very universal as well. Right now we’re very disconnected from each other and we’re very divided. It was interesting and important to me, to both of us, to tell a story about someone that is not connected but becomes connected through their experience.

For myself, when I was in Japan, I felt isolated, and the way that I became connected was through individual personal relationships like making a friend. This idea of Hideki coming to America and making a friends with another outsider, Javier, with the two of them are both fish out of water, they make this friendship.Through this series of events, he starts to listen more and be affected by the people around him, the land, and this whole experience. That’s kind of what I experienced in Japan.

@Tokyo Cowboy

Q:  It’s interesting about the character development between Keiko and Hideki? In the typical Japanese film, it’s always the man who controls the woman but in this film it’s the other way around. Keiko is actually the boss and Hideki has to listen to her all the time. It’s not the typical approach. Were you conscious about trying to avoid the typical depiction of Japan? At the same time, you make fun of Japanese culture so talk about the balance of depicting the Japanese culture in this film because it’s interesting how you present it here.

Marc: This was screenwriter Ayako Fujitani, I wish she was here to talk about some of this because she just added so much in terms of that relationship between Hideki and Keiko. I hope this story will resonate with a Japanese audience.  I don’t know for sure. But talking with Ayako about this, she has said that this storyline has themes that will really resonate with Japanese women. I hope that’s true.

Q: These days, Japanese women are very much like the role of this character. I see so many companies hiring those wonderfully skillful women who get to be on top instead of men. They create more diversity and ideas. There are more females becoming bosses in many major companies recently. It’s a great depiction of that. This is the last question, what do you want audiences to take away from this film? Not just Japanese, but American audiences as well. Could you talk about that?

Marc Marriot: I hope audiences are surprised and delighted by this story. It’s a very gentle comedy. I hope that audiences feel the importance of this story and these themes of becoming connected, bridging divides between people and cultures and being willing to listen more. I am motivated to listen more and be a little more humble — which is a really wonderful quality that you find a lot in Japan, the humility and willingness to work together. I hope that audiences come away from this with that idea.

Brigham Taylor: Absolutely, I agree with the concept of meeting people halfway. The idea of compromise with your external relationships and also within yourself, that’s important and is kind of a lost art in a lot of cases. That’s an important theme and beyond that, getting a little more insight into places that a lot of people aren’t terribly familiar with is [important] as well. I wasn’t terribly familiar with the world of ranching inside Montana before this movie. I’d never lived in Japan like Marc. I think that by exposing them to what’s different, we also learn about what is similar. I think it’s also a fun journey for the audience to take.

@Brigham Taylor

Check out more of Nobuhiro’s articles. 

Here’s the trailer of the film. 

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