When I acquired the feature film Tokyo Pop for the U.S. market in 1988, none of us had any idea that this largely forgotten gem of ’80s American independent cinema by Fran Rubel Kuzui would bring such success to its director or star. Tokyo Pop’s name star, Carrie Hamilton, the daughter of Carol Burnett, was bound for stardom until her life ended prematurely (1963–2002).
The film itself is slated to be a classic, and, if I may say, it was perhaps the precursor to Sophie Coppola’s own classic, ‘Lost in Translation’.
Not only did we have no idea of what the future would bring for any of us who were then struggling to put U.S. independent cinema on the map, neither did we have any idea that Frannie’s next film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, written by a young Josh Whedon in 1992 would open the pipeline for more vampire movies than we had ever seen before, that Josh Whedon would become the super innovator in creating the perpetually profitable TV series which Frannie exec-produced, or that the series itself would pave the way for more of the “elevated” TV series we are seeing today.
In this, Fran Kuzui’s first film, ‘Tokyo Po’p, bleach blonde rocker Wendy (Carrie Hamilton) spontaneously hops on a plane from New York to Tokyo with dreams of making it big in Japan as a singer. Finding herself broke and alone soon after arriving, she takes up work at a hostess club before running into Hiro (Yutaka Tadokoro, Japanese musician Diamond Yukai), a grinning rock ’n’ roll frontman with whom she eventually finds a romantic and musical connection.
Tokyo Pop takes us on a breezy tour through bubble era Tokyo, replete with tongue-in-cheek nods to the city’s American-influenced pop culture and a standout rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
1988, USA/Japan, 99 min., 35mm, in English and Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui. With Carrie Hamilton, Yutaka Tadokoro.
“You don’t have to be a fan of rock music to get a kick out of Tokyo Pop, a wedding of American and Japanese youth cultures as seen through a fun-house mirror.”
— The New York Times
Sydney Levine is one of the most respected voices in the world of Independent Film. Her extensive experience in the international film business includes executive positions in acquisitions as well as teaching and writing. She co-founded Film Finders, the first independent film database. She writes and curates this column.