Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, June 10, 2007

From Oregon with Love

In the last post mention was made of the Japanese TV drama entitled "Oregon Kara Ai" ("From Oregon with Love"). I thought it might be a good idea to explain what that was all about since most people visiting this blog probably have little or no idea.

The series "Oregon Kara Ai" appeared on Japanese television in late 1984. As with virtually all Japanese TV dramas, it was only intended to last one season. There were a total of thirteen one-hour episodes. The story had a definite beginning, the plot followed a definite path of development, and it came to a definite conclusion.

The story centered on a nine-year-old boy named Akira. After his parents were killed in a car accident, his elder sister went to live with an aunt and uncle in Tokyo, and he was sent to live with his other aunt and uncle, who happened to have a farm in central Oregon. It was obviously a very difficult situation for Akira. He not only had to suffer the loss of his parents and separation from everything he knew, but he also had to deal with going from comfortable urban life to the middle of nowhere in a foreign culture. It was pretty hard on him, but he also did his best to make it worse. At first he rejected everything and was hostile toward everyone. His aunt and uncle's attempts to make him comfortable tended to wind up in the garbage. Coldly refusing even to try to interact with his new classmates, he made himself a target for bullying. He also tended to keep calling his sister in Japan on the phone (without permission) and try to get her to find a way to get him back to Japan. Another problem was the fact that his aunt and uncle seemed to have quite a network of Japanese acquaintances in Oregon...and some of them were openly contemptuous of their adopted home. (One woman went so far as to describe Oregon as being a trap from which there is no escape.) Despite it all, Akira does eventually come around. He finally comes to accept and appreciate his aunt and uncle. He also becomes more and more fond of Oregon, but apparently not enough to stay there. Thanks to his earlier efforts to return to Japan, he winds up doing just that...though he's not as happy about it as he'd thought he'd be.

It is a very heartwarming, family-style drama. The story is also accompanied by beautiful background music and stunning shots of the Oregon landscape, mainly focusing on the north-central area between the Cascades and the Columbia Plateau (Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, the Blue and Wallowa Mountains, the Deschutes River, the John Day River, the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls, the Painted Hills, and Lake Billy Chinook, to name a few shots that I recognized). The show was an immediate hit in Japan, and it led not only to a surge in Japanese tourism to Oregon in the late 80s and early 90s but also inspired eight two-hour television movie sequels, the last of which aired in 1996.

The DVD cover for the sequel movie entitled "Oregon Kara Ai '87". The main characters are still the same.

It might be significant to note that "Oregon Kara Ai" was actually a sort of side project. The same production team, some of the same cast members, and, for the most part, the same background music composer were already producing another highly popular and even more successful series of TV dramas and sequel movies entitled "Kita no Kuni Kara" ("From a Northern Country"), a rather "Waltons"-like story set in Hokkaido. The original drama ran in 1981. The most recent sequel movie, which apparently brought the whole thing to a climax, aired in 2002.

Quick aside update (after Ladybug's comment): "Oregon Kara Ai" was mainly filmed in and around the "city" of Madras, Oregon (pop. 5,078 in 2000, though the actor River Phoenix is reportedly a native). (Hmm...the official city website uses Wikipedia as its main source about itself...!) While the series was being made, Madras was already famous for another reason. In 1981 a cult leader named Baghwan Shree Rajneesh arrived at a ranch his followers had bought in the tiny farm community of Antelope (pop. 136 at the time). He then set to work bringing in followers (who all wore red)and converts from all over the world (many illegally). First they seemed quiet and harmless, but they suddenly overwhelmed and took over Antelope, which they officially renamed (wait for it...) Rajneesh. They didn't stop there. After a few years it came out that they were engaging in all kinds of subversive activities (wiretapping, stockpiling assault weapons, experimenting with bioweapons to name a few) as part of an apparent effort to establish a Rajneeshi kingdom. When investigations of the cult increased, the city of The Dalles (county seat of Jefferson County, where Antelope/Rajneesh is located) suffered a suspicious mass salmonella outbreak for which Rajneesh's chief lieutenant openly claimed responsibility. Then Rajneesh himself went on record trying to blame all the subversive activity on his lieutenant. The FBI wasn't very sympathetic. Rajneesh was arrested and expelled from the U.S., taking his cult with him.

Madras is across the line in Wasco County, but at only 70 miles away it is the closest major town to Antelope. A lot of the Rajneeshi cult's activities took place through there, and it was their chief source of supply. It was also the main base of operations of legal (and illegal) and investigative operations against the cult, and for that reason Madras was indicated by Rajneesh himself (and later admitted as such by his lieutenant) as another intended target for poisonings and germ attacks if not a full-scale invasion. "Oregon Kara Ai" was made while all this was going on...and it all looks so peaceful!

Incidentally, on another totally different note (G#?), the English-language Wiki-drama entry says that an alternate title for "Oregon Kara Ai" is "Kita no Kuni Kara - Oregon Kara Ai" ("From a Northern Country - From Oregon with Love"), meaning "Oregon Kara Ai" is part of the "Kita no Kuni Kara" series. However, the Japanese-language Wiki-drama entry says that this is a mistake. Apparently there is a widespread misconception (in both Japan and the U.S.) that the two dramas are related since they are similar in nature, were made by the same team, and star some of the same actors. However, there is no direct connection between them. There is also no connection between the original, Japanese Godzilla and the pathetic imitation that appeared in New York not too long ago. Have a nice day.

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  • Well, I can agree about the "living in the middle of nowhere" thing...I mean the highlight of the region seems to be the Pendleton Round-up, - which a local gently informed me WAS NOT for children & families (no matter what their marketing says) after I expressed interest in visiting during that time w/my very small daughter (we were there contrasting the two museums, the towns' and the Umatilla's Tamastlikt, both very good BTW, but very different in approach!).

    I can't imagine anything worse than being stuck in a town where anything cultural is considered "sissy" and the highlight of a weekend is shooting out stop signs at lonely intersections...

    but I digress, Bend & Redmond are growing a phenomenal pace, and now there are shops galore, golf courses and a big architect designed highway around Bend just to handle the traffic.

    I'm wondering how their going to hand the water situation myself.

    By Blogger ladybug, at 11:17 PM  

  • The Pendleton Round-Up isn't a family event? You mean my proud cowboy lab partner in Organic Chemistry lied to me???!?

    Bend and Redmond are known as good places to retire, and with the graying of the U.S. population...

    The water situation, yeah. Especially since it's so dry there most of the year. Oh, well, they do get scads of snow in winter, right? We could also set up a whole bunch of giant funnels in our part of the state and pipe all that rainwater out to them.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:28 AM  

  • Maybe someone someday will make a movie about an Oregonian living in Japan. It could be called "Life in the Land of the Rising Sun (from which there is no escape)"


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:51 AM  

  • Interesting, sounds like it would be a good series to watch.. heh I like pa've's comment..I would definitely be the first to watch that :)

    By Blogger memo, at 1:12 AM  

  • Wonder why they chose Oregon...because in parts it looks like Japan?

    Ironic that the Shri Rajneeshi's cult would work via a town called "Madras" which is a state in India.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:52 AM  

  • thx for sharing =)

    I'm kinda fond of all these asian drama.Lately i've been watching korean dramas and got addicted as well.


    By Anonymous angele, at 2:44 PM  

  • Thanks for the info on the Rashneeshi's Moody. I remember the PDX airport covered w/the the followers coming & going all the time...and there was a night club downtown (at the end of the Park Blocks) too.

    I never went in, and glad I didn't - read a book by an ex-rashneeshi kid who was raised in the cult. It was pretty bad, just like David Koresh, or Jim Jones (except they'd work you to death, instead of make you drink Kool-Aid). If you were rich, and could donate alot of money, you were ok; but if not, you were basically a serf....

    Now the Round-Up may have some activities during the day that might be "ok" for kids, but the drunken revelry & ensuing violent mayhem is certainly not. (It was actually more than one person over the years that convinced me this is probably not an event for me!). I'm mean, when the locals say stuff like "Batten down the hatches, 'cuz we're in for a rough ride", and "Round-up? That's crazy week, I'd leave town if I didn't have to work!" you know it might not be what it's cracked up to be.

    I did hear that the Happy Canyon Pageant was a bit more kid friendly
    (you can read more info here, but I'd say stay FAR out of town!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 6:39 PM  

  • That sounds like a good one, especially with Oregon scenery.

    Unfortunately for me, the first Japanese drama I watched is so old (late 70's) that it isn't available on tape or DVD. (KIKU TV in Honolulu broadcasts them with english subtitles.) It was called "Nokoro no Yuki" - a sad love triangle. I was impressed at how well crafted it was in every way.

    One drama that went on for many seasons and which I got hooked on was "Wataru seken wa oni bakari".

    I also second Pa've's comment.

    Gojira rules.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:13 PM  

  • Great post answered a lot of questions about Oregon Kara Ai.

    I remember thinking why doesn’t the family movie to Portland, at least there would be more to do (kinda).

    Those Rajneeshi guys got so big. I remember seeing many of them around Portland. They had a Restaurant called Zorba the Buddha near the park blocks. When I walked by, it was totally empty but the whole staff was singing and playing guitar.

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 1:12 AM  

  • I see this is an older post, but we actually live in what's known as "The From Oregon With Love Farmhouse" near Madras. Apparently, this place was in the film repeatedly. Each summer, Japanese tourists swing by to take pictures of the place, which is fun and funny at the same time. We'd like to find a copy of the series on tape or DVD. Anyone know how / where to find it?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:41 PM  

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