When a Japanese automaker takes over a failed American auto plant, differences between American and Japanese work ethics threaten to close the plant.
The local auto plant in Hadleyville, Pennsylvania, which supplied most of the town's jobs, has been closed for nine months. Former foreman Hunt Stevenson (Michael Keaton) goes to Tokyo to try to convince the Assan Motors Corporation to reopen the plant. The Japanese company agrees, and upon their arrival in the U.S., they take advantage of the desperate work force to institute many changes. The workers are not permitted a union, are paid lower wages, are moved around within the factory so that each man learns every job, and are held to seemingly impossible standards of efficiency and quality. Adding to the strain in the relationship, the Americans also find humor in the demand that they do calisthenics as a group each morning, and that the Japanese executives eat their lunches with chopsticks and bathe together in the river near the factory. The workers also display a poor work ethic and lackadaisical attitude towards quality control.
The Japanese executive in charge of the plant is Oishi Kazuhiro (Gedde Watanabe), who has been a failure in his business career thus far because he is too lenient on his workers. He has been given one final chance to redeem himself by making the American plant a success. Intent on becoming the strict manager his superiors expect, he gives Hunt a large promotion on the condition that he work as a liaisonbetween the Japanese management and the American workers, to smooth the transition and convince the workers to obey the new rules. More concerned with keeping his promotion than with the welfare of his fellow workers, Hunt does everything he can to trick the American workers into compliance, but the culture clash becomes too great and he begins to lose control of the men.
In an attempt to solve the problem, Hunt makes a deal with Kazuhiro: if the...