Minoru Kawasaki's films are legendary in our household. We haven't watched any of them, mind you. However you've got to love a man who creates films like The Calamari Wrestler
(2004), Crab Goalkeeper
(2006) and (my wife's favourite) an alleged horror film with the title Aarghh! This house has no toilet!
(2007). (NOTE: it stopped being her favourite very quickly when we bought the DVD.) In 2006 there was a remake of the 1970s disaster movie Japan Sinks, alongside which Kawasaki released his own version called The World Sinks Except Japan. Clearly this is a masterpiece just from the title. Even for Japan, he's off the wall.
More precisely Kawasaki's an absurdist. He takes howlingly ridiculous concepts and then turns them not into Monty Python sketches but instead entire films. His favourite trick is to do a movie with a proper plot that's completely normal in every respect, except that its hero is being played by an actor in an animal costume. Google them. Just type some of these film titles into a search engine and you'll see what I'm talking about, i.e. a new definition of "Only in Japan". Kabuto-O Beetle (2005) and Pussy Soup (2008) are further examples of this, despite the latter's title. Executive Koala has a story about a hardworking executive in a pickle company who's having to put together a big merger with some Korean partners while struggling with memory loss and the disappearance of his wife three years earlier.
He's also a koala. You probably guessed that bit, though. His boss is a rabbit and there's a frog working behind the checkout at the local convenience store, but everyone else is human.
The film's premise is that people are aware that he's a koala, but it's not a big issue in Kawasaki-world and no one treats him any differently because of it. The women in the office even think he's sexy. You might think this is going to be over-the-top and wacky, yet the weird thing is that it isn't really a comedy. It doesn't have jokes. The plot's reminiscent of Hitchcock, with suspicion, murder, persecution and even a prison sequence, except that Hitchcock's films are funnier. It's completely deadpan, with the exception of some overacting, and if you CGI-ed in humans over the animal costumes then you'd have a fairly classical, albeit low-budget and slightly camp, film noir. You could probably guess that the finale's meant to be ludicrous, but even so it's doing it with a straight face.
No, I tell a lie. I forgot the dream sequences. One of these breaks the fourth wall as Executive Koala takes off his head and the director wraps up the shot, while there aren't words to describe the musical number about why Executive Koala deserves the death penalty.
Apart from that though, it's playing it straight. You're probably thinking that's a fairly sizeable "apart from that", but that's because you haven't seen Executive Koala. He looks so stupid! Somewhere out there, people are complaining that this film's special effects are bad and that you can see the koala's zip, which might just be the most retarded thing ever said on the internet. Is it the illogical extension of Godzilla flicks? Kawasaki recently made a sequel to Uchu daikaiju Girara (1967), so it's not as if he's unaware of the links with old tokusatsu movies. The difference of course though is that those films are unaware of how ridiculous they look. Here you're not meant to be taking the movie seriously, so for instance the film's indicator of Executive Koala having turned into Psycho Executive Koala is to put flashing red lights in his eyes. I didn't find this film as funny as I'd been expecting, but I practically fell out of my chair laughing at the moments of Executive Koala's most shocking and heart-rending anguish. You have no idea. He wobbles with fury.
In fairness I also laughed at the "koala fur is grey" line. I've heard claims that there's a fair amount of wordplay in there and it's perfectly possible that I missed lots of gags like that by watching it raw. I believe Minoru Kawasaki's films have been released on R1 DVD in America and if you're reading this review, that's how I'd urge you to see them. Even if your Japanese is passable, you're likely to lose the plot when the Korean guy turns up and the film starts expecting you to follow Japanese subtitles. I can't read that fast!
Overall, this is the kind of film that you'd expect to be a cult favourite, except that sometimes just being weird isn't enough. It's too deadpan and surreal to pick up a big populist audience. The downside of not being able to take the story seriously is that you can't take the story seriously, so you end up sitting there slightly dumbstruck for an hour and a half. The finale's even goofier than the rest of the film, though, while I love the opening theme song, "Go, Go, Executive Koala". Would I recommend it? Not very hard. No movie should have that many dream sequences, even for surreal effect. I was entertained and it's certainly an experience, but I'd be surprised if this were Kawasaki's best "protagonist in an animal costume" movie. I've heard that The Calamari Wrestler
's good, though.