Hadleyville, Pennsylvania, is fading fast. The car factory, engine of the local economy, has closed down, and former autoworker and local union head Hunt Stevenson (Keaton) is sent to Tokyo to attract Assan Motors to take over the plant. They do, and the town is saved, but now the American autoworkers and the Japanese management will have to somehow learn to work together in spite of their cultural differences. Hilarity Ensues.
The film was later made into a TV show with Gedde Watanabe and Scott Bakula.
This film provides examples of:
- Absurdly Huge Population: A frustrated Kazuhiro tells Hunt how crowded Japan is.Kaz: I came out here to be alone. In Japan, you're never alone. You put on your pants, there's someone in there.
- The Alleged Car: Some of the last few of the 15,000 cars they build in a month are rather unfinished. When Hunt tries to drive one out of the factory, it falls apart after going maybe 5 feet.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Like a lot of the other pieces of Japanese corporate culture seen in the film, "Ribbons of Shame" are very real.
- Blatant Lies: Hunt tries to pretend that one of the unfinished cars has a windshield, and is immediately called on it by Sakamoto
- Cultural Posturing:Kaz: From now on, this plant will be run our way, the way we know how!Hunt: Oh yeah? Yeah, well if you guys are so great, how come you lost the big one?
- Dying Town: Hadleyville is a factory town without a factory until Assan Motors reopens the plant and saves the town.
- Interchangeable Asian Cultures:
- The theme of the film is Americans and Japanese learning to work together. "Gung ho" means "work together," but it's a Chinese term coined as an Americanism during World War 2, when America was fighting the Japanese.
- In Universe, one of the things the citizens of Hadleyville bring to their welcoming ceremony for the Japanese executives is a Chinese-style dragon costume—although the actual dragon looks decidedly Western
- Japan Takes Over the World: A major example of American fears over the issue in The '80s.
- Jerkass: Saito. He tries to be a Professional Butt-Kisser, but comes across as too smug and wanting to see others (especially Kaz) fail so he'll succeed.
- My Card: "Anyone got any Subaru or Suzuki? No? Go fish."
- Power Walk: Evoked by the employees joining Hunt toward the end, with Buster leading the way.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: During the labor action, Hunt is finally driven to tell the strikers the simple truth of why the Japanese are outdoing them in the auto industry is that they have the work ethic that too many American workers have abandoned.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Kazuhiro is shamed in Japan, so he's shipped off to America as punishment. He manages to succeed there nonetheless.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Japan building factories in or taking over companies in America was a very real concern in The '80s (beginning in 1982 when Honda opened a plant in Marysville, OH) and this movie explores the idea of two cultures working together to fulfill a common goal: making big money. The specific plot, the workers at a closed auto plant learning from the Japanese company that takes over and revitalized their plant, specifically happened at the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California.
- Salaryman: Kazuhiro.
- Shown Their Work: The film's depiction of Japanese executives dealing with American workers was so accurate that Toyota actually uses it to show Japanese managers that are bound for the USA how NOT to do things.
- Switch to English: Takahara Kazuhiro's wife starts speaking Japanese to him in one scene, but he tells her to practice her English and they continue the conversation in English.
- Unfortunate Names: Assan Motor's Japanese name (圧惨自動車) can be translated as "wretched car." Given that the cars produced at Hadleyville barely held for five minutes, the name is hilariously accurate.