Shinobu Yaguchi doesn't make "oh my God, that's brilliant" films. Instead he makes charming entertainment that's a safe bet for a good time. I don't know if I'd go so far as to call this a comedy, but it was good for a few laughs and I'd recommend it.
I'd been expecting this to be another remake of his Waterboys
and Swing Girls
, but fortunately it's not. I've nothing against those films, of course, but it's always nicer to see something new. This one's set in the world of Japanese airlines and it's an ensemble piece starring just about everyone. Yaguchi spent nearly two years researching the airline industry and as a result, one of the most unexpectedly interesting aspects of the film he's made is its educational value. It's got as much detail as a fly-on-the-wall documentary. We don't just see the glamorous people. On the contrary, we meet pilots, stewardesses, bird-scarers, nerds, plane-spotters, air traffic controllers, check-in clerks, annoying schoolchildren on a sightseeing trip, engineering maintenance crews and more. Is there anyone we don't see? Baggage handlers, maybe? In comparison the passengers are relatively unimportant, although they're in it too.
The laughs mostly come from the newbies. Seiichi Tanabe is trying to qualify as a pilot, but he just crashed his simulator. Meanwhile Haruka Ayase is a first-time flight attendant. Both of them are under the eagle eye of scary and unpleasant superiors, who in most films you might expect to be heading for a satisfying humiliation. Yaguchi doesn't think like that, though. When things get tough, those intimidating characters both turn out to be calm, efficient professionals and exactly the kind of people you want at your side in a crisis. I found that rather sweet, actually.
I liked the entire cast, which is lucky since it's an ensemble piece. Haruka Ayase is the obvious attraction, since she's not only gorgeous but won a Nikkan Sports Film Best Actress Award for 2008 for her work in this and in Ichi and Cyborg Girl. I'm not arguing with the award and I'm always happy to see more of Ayase, but those other two films were pushing her way further than this one. Here she's just an enthusiastic, sweet girl who doesn't know when to keep her head down and will often make you laugh. She's good at it, but it wasn't exactly a stretch for her. My favourite character was actually the hamster-faced check-in girl, Kami Hiraiwa, who's lovely.
The plot can be thought of a ridiculously gentle disaster movie, except that the "disaster" is really "something's gone a bit wrong, but we'll be okay". Besides, I'm pretty sure we're already in the second half of the film before getting even that far. It feels as if we're watching a real flight. The mishaps and problems are everyday ones and no one has to do anything extraordinary. It just needs a bit of cooperation between all parties. This would be laughable if this were a plot-based movie, but fortunately it isn't and instead it's more about spending time with lots of likeable people who are trying to do their jobs. They're both fun and interesting, so we're happy. This is not a heavyweight film. Some people think it's too gentle and would have liked more drama and urgency to the narrative, which I can understand. If you don't buy into its charm and furthermore aren't interested by Yaguchi's detailed and sympathetic unpicking of all the interlocking jobs in a modern airport, there won't be much here to grab you.
I've been told that you could use this film in airline training. That's its main distinguishing feature, to be honest. It's nice. It made me smile and I'm glad I saw it. Your mum would love it.