Gung Ho (Movie) – American versus Japanese Culture

1.0) What does the title of the film “gung- ho” mean?

2.0) Who are the characters in the movie?

2.1) Hunt: Michael Keaton

1Michael Keaton – Hunt Stevenson

2.2) Kazihiro: Gedde Watanabe

Gedde Watanabe is Kazihiro

2.3) Kazihiro is a Salaryman

2.4) Adam and Joe go Tokyo: Salaryman night out

2.5) Japanese Bar Etiquette – The ABC’s

A) What happens in the izakaya stays in the izakaya!

B) A lot of important business discussion happens during drinking.

C) An empty glass is quickly filled by someone else.  Generally you don’t pour your own drink.

Planet Japan: Salaryman / サラリーマン

Salaryman 6 – Overwork in Japan

2.6) Compare and contrast the lifestyle of a Japanese salaryman with that of a white collar worker in Thailand.

3.0) What is the basic plot of the movie?

Gung Ho is the story of a Japanese company (Assan Motors) that comes to a small American town, Hadleyville, to reopen a car factory. Hunt Stevenson (Keaton) lures Assan to Hadleyville and is offered an “employee liaison” position in the joint venture. He soon learns that the Japanese and the Americans have very different styles of operating a company, based in large measure on differences in cultural values.

Hunt and Kazihiro (Watanabe), the executive manager of the factory, strike up a friendship. Unfortunately, both are pressured by their cultural constituencies, and they end up fighting in the middle of the factory. As a result, the American workers walk out on their jobs and Assan Motors decides to pull out of town. Hunt and Kazihiro reconcile and decide to reopen the factory themselves; their constituencies eventually join them. The members of the two cultures learn to respect (and even appreciate) their differences. By collaborating rather than competing, their joint venture is a success.

4.0) How do the differences between individualism and collectivism affect the working relationships between the Japanese and the Americans?


IE System - Soto Uchi

On the first day of the joint venture, Kazihiro addresses the American workers: “We must build spirit. We must be a team, one, with one purpose only. Everyone thinking only of the company.” He hopes to build this spirit by having them exercise together. The workers resist until Hunt begins doing calisthenics. Eventually they join Hunt, but in their own exercise styles rather than according to the Japanese regimen. From the outset of the merger, individualism clashes with collectivism.

Conflict rises again when Soito (Shimono), one of the Japanese managers, tries to show Buster (Wendt), one of the workers, a different way to paint a car. Buster resists and says, “Why can’t we just do what we know how to do?” Obviously frustrated, Soito replies, “Every man learns every job, then we are a team. No man is special.” Hunt steps in to resolve the problem. He explains to Soito, “See, here’s the deal on that. You’re in America now, you know, and the thing is, Americans really like to feel special.” When Hunt requests that the workers be returned to their familiar jobs, Soito firmly says, “There is one way to run this factory. One way.” The episode illustrates differences in valuing the one versus the many and the part versus the whole.

Another example: Willie (Turturro), one of the workers, takes the afternoon off to be with his son who is having his tonsils removed. Willie is upset because he is docked for the time off. Hunt tries to smooth things with Kazihiro by explaining, “The guy just lives for his kids.” Kazihiro says, “But work suffers.” For Kazihiro, the individual must sacrifice for the larger good, while Willie values individual nurturing over collective achievement.

5.0) How do the Japanese and the Americans in the movie differ in terms of high and low context styles?

Low vs. High Context Communication

Americans tend to use a low context (direct) communication style in comparison to the high context (indirect) style of the Japanese. Hunt uses low context “straight talk” several times in the movie, even though he often begins by “beating around the bush.” An example is when he goes to Japan to sell the Assan managers on the idea of coming to Hadleyville. He starts with a slide presentation, notices he isn’t getting much of a response, then decides to cut to the chase. He says, “Look, here’s the deal,” explaining bluntly that Hadleyville needs the Japanese and that the Americans will work hard if they come over. The Japanese don’t say anything, so Hunt thinks he has failed (silence is generally regarded negatively in low-context cultures). When Assan decides to come to Hadleyville, Hunt is shocked: a case of intercultural misunderstanding.

The high-context style of the Japanese emphasizes harmony and “saving face.” An example in the film is when the Americans challenge the Japanese to a game of softball. Buster cheats when he intentionally knocks a man down. Rather than contest the incident, the Japanese accept the loss and leave. Another time high and low context styles clash is when Audrey and Hunt go to Kazihiro’s for dinner. After the meal, Kazihiro wants to discuss business. This is a cue for the women to leave, but Audrey stays. Hunt directly asks her to leave. She has no intention of doing so and says, “Well actually I’m kind of interested in what’s going on at the plant. Nobody minds if I stay, right?” The Japanese men, who clearly don’t want her there, say nothing. Both Hunt and Audrey exhibit low-context styles in a high-context situation.

6.0) What are the differences between the Americans and Japanese in terms of high and low power distance styles?

The American workers, exhibiting a low power distance style, believe they should have a say in decisions at the factory. The Japanese managers, exhibiting a high power distance style, believe that those in authority should make decisions and be obeyed without question. This inevitably causes conflict between management and workers. When the workers challenge the management (such as when they make labor union decisions), the Assan managers regard it as a sign of disrespect, while the Americans simply believe they are standing up for their rights. In this and every conflict in the movie, each side sees its values as “correct” and the other culture as “wrong.” This ethnocentrism exacerbates the communication problems between them.

7.0) How do Hunt and Kazihiro adopt parts of one another’s culture by the end of the movie? How does it affect each of their groups?

Kazihiro would like to be more like Willie, regarding nurturing as more important than achievement. As the movie progresses, he stands up for one of his workers on this issue. Kazihiro wants to give the worker time off because his wife is in labor, but Mr. Sakamoto (Yamamura), Kazihiro’s boss, intimidates the worker into staying. This is a turning point for Kazihiro; he stands up to his boss and says, “We work too damn hard. This is not our lives, this is a factory. Our friends, our families should be our lives. We are killing ourselves . . . we have things that we can learn from Americans.” None of his Japanese coworkers support him as he stands alone before Mr. Sakamoto. In this moment of decision, he values individualism over collectivism and low power distance over high power distance.

Hunt also goes through changes. In the beginning of the movie, he tells a basketball story to persuade the union to work for the Japanese without a contract and at lower wages. The moral of his story is that one man (Hunt) saves the team. In essence, he promises to handle the Japanese for them. He takes on the role of town hero, feeding his ego and his individuality. His girlfriend, Audrey (Rogers), tries to persuade him that the town needs a more collectivist approach: “They don’t need some guy who’s trying to make the winning play all by himself.” Hunt eventually recognizes what he is doing and apologizes to everyone at the festival: “I put myself in front of the town and I’m really sorry.”

Both Hunt and Kazihiro are upset about the failure of Assan Motors in Hadleyville. As they sit on the river bank, they discuss their regrets. Each realizes that his ethnocentric tendencies are counterproductive to their joint venture. Rather than focusing on their differences, they decide to focus again on their shared goal. “Yes, Yes, I feel like you,” Kazihiro says to Hunt. “I would love another chance. I know we could do better.”

8.0) How does this cross-cultural communication affect each of their groups?

The two decide to go back to the factory to build 1000 more cars together. Their teamwork is a model to the workers and the managers who ultimately return to help Kazihiro and Hunt achieve their goal.


American versus Japanese Communication Styles

American versus Japanese Culture

American versus Japanese Management

WereVerse Universe Baby!

7 responses to “Gung Ho (Movie) – American versus Japanese Culture

  1. What an excellent analysis!!! Great work!

  2. Thanks!

  3. das ist super

  4. You posted all of the answers that professors typically assign, so I have students plagiarizing this content.

    • That’s terrible! I have a few students myself that think writing means copy and paste.

    • That seems like a personal issue. People are allowed to post whatever they want. NO need for you to bring that commentary to this blog where other people may be interested to learn, I had never even heard of this film before. GO control your students and keep your comments to yourself.

  5. I have the same thing happening

Leave a Reply