If you live in Japan, you've seen Dante Carver on television. The American-born actor plays "Onii-chan" or "brother" in a series of mobile phone commercials that star a dog as a family patriarch, actress Aya Ueto, and Shigesato Itoi's wife.
And if you've been to the Tokyo Game Show, you've probably seen Carver on stage, presenting, demoing games or dressing as the Metal Gear Solid 4 character Drebin. He was the official spokesperson for the Japanese release of Dante's Inferno (geddit?). As far as foreigners go in Japan, he's pretty famous. He's also in trouble with the law -- for something that would appear trivial anywhere else.
Today, Japanese newspapers and TV news are reporting that Carver is being prosecuted for driving without a licence, after he was stopped for making an illegal turn this summer. Carver presented police with an international drivers' licence that had long expired.
An international driver's licence is not valid for long-term residents in Japan. As the U.S. Embassy's webpage explained: "Persons using an international drivers licence who are resident in Japan can be subject to fines or arrest. The exact boundary between 'resident' and 'not resident' is unclear. In practice it seems to involve more than simply visa status or length of stay in Japan and is determined by the police."
Changing to a Japanese licence is a supreme pain in the arse. In Osaka at least, the department of motor vehicles seems hell bent on flunking foreigners who haven't shelled out three thousand bucks for driving school and who are trying to switchover their U.S. licence to a Japanese one. In theory, all that's required is for you to pass a written and a driving test.
For those who go to driving school, it's a snap! For those who have a foreign licence, it ain't. The first time I went to take the driving test, sans driving school, a fellow test taker asked me how many times I'd taken the test. It was her seventh. I ended up taking the test five times, failing four times, for reasons that varied from stopping on a white line to having "too much space" between my car and the curb. One time, I saw a driving instructor make a Japanese girl, who got her licence in California, cry. And after every time I failed, the instructor recommend that I pay a hundred bucks to practice on the driving course.
Carver told authorities that he didn't know about the law. Kotaku reached out to the actor for a comment, but he did not reply before publication.
"I didn't know", is a common excuse among foreigners in Japan. Playing the stupid foreigner is an easy way out as sometime folks are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Carver said he didn't know, so take him at his word -- give him the benefit of the doubt.
While famous people tend to run circles around the cops in the West, run-ins with the cops in Japan can cost one his or her career. Infractions can be seemingly trivial, such as underage smoking or drinking. Or they can be more serious, like being caught with crack cocaine. In the eyes of the Japanese public, both are image destroying. The PR machine creates the image. The performers are expected to live up to it.
According to Sankei, one Japanese kids show that Carver has appeared on for years, cut the actor for the time being, noting that it was "regrettable". The show hasn't decided if he will appear next year. No word on how this will impact other promotions and appearances. Dante's inferno, indeed.