As someone from a small, rural Midwestern town, I’ve found Tokyo to be a veritable jungle of new adventures, experiences, and opportunities that I’d never imagined while growing up. Some of these I’ve sought out deliberately (iaido lessons, shrine festivals, all-night hikes around the Yamanote Line with my friends, for example), while others I’ve fallen into completely by accident.
Such as the Tokyo Cowboys.
A multicultural, independent film group, the Tokyo Cowboys is the brainchild of American actor/model Christopher McCombs, who I met by chance on my very first flight to Japan as a college student in 2012. Creative, ambitious, professional, and stunningly multitalented, Chris has been both a good friend and a motivating, inspirational force in my life, showing me just how much an artist can achieve with the right amount of focus, will, and self-discipline. Having worked on various Japanese TV shows over the years*, Chris became increasingly frustrated by the constraints placed on foreign actors (who, he told me, are usually cast as obnoxious, lost, or otherwise clueless gaijin stereotypes), and finally realized it was no use sitting around and waiting for norms to change themselves. Assembling a team of international artists—Japanese, American, Swedish, Mexican, Korean, and Taiwanese, among others—he formed the Tokyo Cowboys to showcase Tokyo’s diverse talent to the world. From drama to horror to musical to comedy, the Tokyo Cowboys’ filmography transcends genres and cultures, and over the past few years has accrued numerous awards from film festivals around the globe.**
I’ve had the incredibly good fortune to help out with some of these projects, and it’s fascinating to experience film from the productive, technical side. But even beyond that, it’s inspiring to be around so many artists who are both professionally-minded and supportive of one another. Actors, photographers, musicians, and illustrators all come together on these productions, and the momentum just keeps picking up.
The Tokyo Cowboys’ first comedy series, The Benza, will be coming to Amazon Prime in 2019. Chris wrote the story, and it’s wild, fun, and absurd in all the best ways—the harrowing adventure of a pair of foreigners in Japan, whose quest to replace their apartment’s cracked toilet seat naturally spirals into multicultural confusion and a clash between the forces Good and Evil. Inspired by true events! Be sure to check it out.
(Update, May 2019: The first two episodes of The Benza are now available on Amazon Prime! The remaining four episodes will also become available this spring.)
*For those living in Japan, you can currently see Chris on Kodawari Navi and Omotenashi no Kiso Eigo.
**Awards for just The Benza pilot episode include:
- Best Duo (Christopher McCombs and Kyle Card), Festigious 2018
- Audience Choice Award, Motion For Pictures 2018
- Best Pilot, Seoul Webfest 2018
- Best Comedy, MedFF 2018
- Best Short Film, Comedy World Network Int. Film Festival 2018