Mystery Train. 1989. dir. Jim Jarmusch.
Jun and Mitsuko are Japanese tourists visiting Memphis, the land of their heroes: Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. They visit the famous Sun Studios and Graceland and end up in a rundown motel, where their decent engrish and Japanese customs confuse the employees.
Luisa is a recent widow from Italy who gets stuck in Memphis for one night due to a flight cancellation. Her inability to say no gives everyone opportunities to rip her off. Eventually, she meets up and rooms with Dee Dee, an impoverished woman on the run from her lover.
Johnny is a recently laid-off Englishman whose wife unexpectedly left him. Spending the majority of his screen time drinking towards oblivion, his friend Will and brother-in-law Charlie try to protect him from the .38 he carries. After an incident involving the gun, the three have to find a place to hide from the law.
Mystery Train is a film where three separate stories occur simultaneously, but are played one after the other. All of them converge in a rundown motel in Memphis, Tennessee, as the voice of Tom Waits announces the King’s “Blue Moon” on the radio. It is a dark comedy that unravels slowly, but it is a very rewarding film.
Most of the humor and topics for ethical discussions lie in the cultural differences displayed during each story. The Japanese tourists are endearing, as they reflect on “Jerry Ree Rewis,” emulate American icons, give Japanese plums as tips to bellboys, etc. The cultural difference manifested with Luisa, the Italian woman, is not as over-the-top. Early on, her unshaven armpits are exposed. Things that may be disgusting to an American may be natural to an Italian. As for Johnny (played by Joe Strummer of The Clash), he’s just a British drunk. However, unlike most of the other white characters in the film, he doesn’t share the same racial tension with black characters that the Americans express. In fact, he enacts violence upon a white man who used the word “nigger” toward Will. He’s the sole white anti-racist in the film… but not necessarily a hero.
Mystery Train is a pretty good independent film of the 80s, and probably one of Jarmusch’s best. There are many hilarious scenes and Jun lights up a cigarette pretty badass-ish. And Steve Buscemi is in it, playing a quintessential Steve Buscemi role.