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star struck

McPain in the neck
Morgan Spurlock brings his anti-McDonald's message to Japan
By Chris Betros

When Morgan Spurlock was in Japan recently, everyone kept asking him if he had been to a Japanese McDonald's. "Why would I ever set foot inside a McDonald's in a foreign country?" asked the 34-year-old director of the hit documentary Super Size Me, in which he eats nothing but McDonald's for 30 days and sees his health deteriorate as a result. "When Americans travel, we want everything to be just like home. Starbucks, McDonald's, KFC. When I leave America, that's the last thing I want to see. The problem is, that way of thinking is starting to take root in other cultures and pushing out indigenous traditional food. Everyone is buying into this 'McDonaldization' of culture."

Looking none the worse from his experiment, Spurlock said the only Western-style fast food he had during his visit here was a rice burger at Mos Burger, which he thought was great. "Some Japanese journalists told me: 'We have such better eating habits here. We don't eat that type of food.' Wow, I can't understand how come there are 8,000 Japanese packed into the McDonald's downstairs. Who are all those people?"

Spurlock's documentary, which won him the best director's prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year, has turned him into a crusader against the fast food industry. He has received hate mail, while many websites have sprung up debunking some of the facts, figures and conclusions in the film. "I just wanted to empower people to think about eating better and exercising more," he pointed out. "I picked McDonald's because they are iconic and the industry leader."

Super Size Me also focuses on schools. "I was shocked to see what we are feeding kids in schools. Pizza, candy, ice cream, soda, French fries, hamburgers, cookies, hot dogs," he said. "We need to get the crap out of the schools. Every high school and college should have cooking lessons. Kids should cook a meal every day."

Spurlock was also amused that no Japanese TV or radio station wanted to interview him. "It's the same in every country I have visited. They don't want to lose their advertising. Here's a corporation that sells burgers and fries that now has the ability to control the media. That's frightening." It's also one reason, he believes, why documentaries are enjoying renewed popularity. "Documentaries are one of the last bastions of free speech," he says.

Spurlock has already started his next project for cable TV. "We took a Christian from West Virginia, very pro-war, with an 'us-or-them' mentality, and moved him to Dearborn, Michigan, which has the largest Muslim population in the US so he could learn what it is like to be considered a threat. He moved in with a Muslim family and lived, dressed, ate and prayed five times a day, went to the mosque, worked with a cleric. The transformation is remarkable."

Photo credit: Chris Betros

 

 

the scene

ACHILLES JAPAN YOYOGI PARK RUN

A PARALYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST TEAMS UP WITH STANDARD CHARTERED TO TEACH TOKYO KIDS ABOUT BLIND RUNNING CHAMPIONS

Clockwise from top left: two-time Athens Olympic gold medalist Henry Wanyoike; Kenyan Ambassador Dennis Awori (left) speaking to the runners; Wanyoike with Standard Chartered Bank CEO Mark Devadason; students from Nishimachi International School; Wanyoike with his running guide, Joseph Kibunja

 

q&a
ATCJ founders

Kazuyuki Takagi, president of Achilles Track Club Japan, and Mark Devadason, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Japan, speak about ATCJ, a nonprofit organization where the able-bodied and the physically impaired get together. Through its association with Seeing is Believing, Standard Chartered Bank’s major global community fundraising project, ATCJ has raised US$14 million, enough to give more than 56,000 people their sight back.



How did you get involved in ATCJ?
KT: I lost sight in both my eyes about ten years ago and I started rehab in 1995. That’s when the doctor there told me about ATCJ. At first, my disability was severe, so I slowly started out walking and gradually began running. Because I lost my sight at a pretty late age, I was quite depressed about it, but through the warmth of the people around me, I was able to get through with my rehabilitation exercises. I thought that I should do something to give back to the community… We currently meet and train together at least twice a month in Yoyogi Park.



How about Seeing is Believing?
MD: Standard Chartered Bank, through sponsoring Seeing is Believing, is leading the way in taking the first steps towards combating curable blindness around the world. Did you know that many of the blind can be treated for a mere $25? Knowing this, you see how important it is to address sight problems. Our first initiative was to raise enough funds to restore sight to one million people by the end of 2006. Eighty percent of the estimated 45 million blind people around the world can be cured with simple surgery.



What’s Henry Wanyoike’s role?
MD: He is Seeing is Believing’s goodwill ambassador, and he is on an Asian tour with his running guide and lifelong friend, Joseph Kibunja. He also ran a 5K fundraising race with the Nishi Machi International School’s cross-country team, in which the students ran as guides for visually-impaired runners from ATCJ. The Ambassador of Kenya was there, and [the athletes] treated the kids to a brief workshop on how to be a good running guide. ww003.upp.so-net.ne.jp/achilles/index.htm; email: yoshihiko.ito@jp.standardchartered.com. MN

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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