I ran across a write up of the Japanese film Afro Tanaka on film blog Shadow & Act. Although the film debuted in Japan last year, it’s gearing up for its North American premiere at the Fantasia Film festival this month. Like many coming-of-age comedies, Afro Tanaka is a quirky film.

According to the synopsis, Afro Tanaka follows the typical script about how a loser somehow overhauls his image and becomes a stud.

Check it:

When Tanaka traded in his messy hair for a glorious Afro, he finally got respect. The problem is, this is the only good decision he’s made in his entire life. Director Daigo Matsui presents one of the funniest and most strangely endearing characters you will see this year, joyfully interpreted by star Shota Matsuda.

Although Tanaka, the film’s main character, appears to go from geek to chic simply by changing his hair, the film’s trailer doesn’t seem to match this narrative.

Despite sporting a huge ’fro, the film apparently doesn’t mix in any overt black cultural reference (aside from the hair, of course).

Maggie Lee of Variety writes:

The eponymous hero of “Afro Tanaka” may sport a frizzy hairdo the size of Tokyo Dome, but black pride and Jimi Hendrix are the last things on his one-track mind. An offbeat and endearingly parochial loser comedy, this Nipponese manga adaptation is a soul sister to Nobuhiro Yamashita’s deadpan slacker films, though helmer Daigo Matsui elicits much more affection for his clueless protag, floundering in date-or-die-a-virgin hell.

She continues:

A hilarious sight gag … the protag’s retro ’do is less a racial signifier than a major symbol of uncool, all the more so because Tanaka is oblivious to his own otherness.

So, while the film doesn’t include any “racial signifiers” other than the Afro, Tanaka’s hair is clearly seen as a ridiculous gag. And since Afros are typically associated with black folks, it’s not much of a leap to assume that — even indirectly — the film is taking a jab at black hair.

Or am I too sensitive?

Check out the trailer for the film and decide for yourself.

(Note: It’s in Japanese. Any Clutchettes care to translate?)

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  • Val

    If this occurred in a vacuum then I’d say maybe you were being too sensitive. But, the truth is that Black hair is constantly made fun of. Every Halloween millions of White people wear an afro wig as part of their costume. How about all the White people that wear afro wigs to sporting events. Apparently natural Black hair of the texture that can grow into an afro is funny to some people. So I agree that this film is using the afro as a funny prop and to me it is offensive.

  • I think you are just reading too much into this. Many cultures do seem to have a fascination with all things black

  • Ebs

    Actually, afros were (and still are, to a certain extent) quite the rage in Japan, along with cornrows, locs, braids, etc. Men and women completely fry their hair trying to get it to look like ours. Also there is quite a thriving hip-hop/dancehall subculture there- it’s kind of an “in” thing right now. Ever heard of ganguro girls (google it)? Please consider all that before making your call.