Tokyo Cowboy

Joelle Hann

Canada Post hired me in January, and at first I worked at a station in my own neighbourhood, meaning I left my house at 6:48 a.m. to arrive at 6:52 a.m. Life seemed fair; I could have been posted in the suburbs. It lasted only two weeks, but back in those days, feeling optimistic, I went to see Tokyo Cowboy, Kathy Garneau's first feature film, in which one of the characters is a postie in full regalia—blue jacket, grey pants and navy blue satchel, embodying all that I had yet to become: fully uniformed, excellent at sorting his mail and familiar with all the houses and occupants on his walk. I realized that posties symbolize Canada to me almost as much as those relentless Mounties do. Maybe it's the corporate logo you see everywhere, or maybe their reputation for friendliness, or their omnipresence (ever counted how many post office trucks you see in a day?), or perhaps the distances they travel and the weather (not to mention the dogs) they negotiate to deliver the mail. Even if it raises stamp prices too often and delays important mail, Canada Post (it suddenly seemed to me) was one of the mother-structures of the Canadian Identity, invisible and essential. "Hey, that's me," I whispered as the postie on screen walked into a bar, in uniform, and ordered a beer. In the film, a Japanese boy obsessed with cowboys flies to rural B.C. to meet his childhood cowgirl/penpal. She's grown up and got a fine arts degree from Vancouver, moved back to her home town, and moved in with her girlfriend, but has yet to come out to her community. Her mother tries to get the low-down, or at least get her daughter together with the nice Japanese boy. Meanwhile, the Japanese boy appoints the postie as his cowboy sensei. The climactic scene, at the Hallowe'en dance, underlines the racial, sexual and relational tensions in the community. The postie, dressed as a First Nations chief, meets a First Nations youth who demands that he de-mask and defeather, while the Japanese boy masquerades as a geisha girl and winds up outside behind a pickup truck, kissing the cowgirl's girlfriend, and the cowgirl, enraged and armed, manages to shoot the Japanese boy in the arm. Not shouting about being Canadian, but not concealing it either, not making an overly pointed display of discriminations, but portraying them as they normally occur, this film got my heart and my interest. Caroline Adderson, a friend of Garneau's and winner of the 1994 Governor General's award for fiction, wrote the screenplay and, believe it or not, the next day at work—refreshed by this good flick—as I sorted mail into the lock-boxes of an east Vancouver housing complex, I noticed that the Book of the Month envelope was going to none other than Caroline Adderson. "Hey, do you know who this is?" I asked my postie-trainer. "Nah," he said, not caring much more after I enlightened him. I folded and wrestled the envelope into its box and scraped the skin off my knuckles in the process.

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