Sadao AbeEiko KoikeSatoshi TsumabukiShihori Kanjiya
Paco and the Magical Book
Also known as: Pako to Mahou no Ehon
Medium: film
Year: 2008
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Writer: Hirohito Goto, Nobuhiro Monma, Tetsuya Nakashima
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Keywords: fantasy
Actor: Anna Tsuchiya, Ayaka Wilson, Dewi Sukarno, Eiko Koike, Gekidan Hitori, Hikomaro, Hirohito Goto, Jun Kunimura, Kaela Kimura, Koji Yakusho, Ryo Kase, Sadao Abe, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Sayuki Matsumoto, Shihori Kanjiya, Takaya Kamikawa, Takaya Yamauchi, Yutaro
Format: 105 minutes
Website category: Japanese SF
Review date: 22 May 2022
It's a movie by Tetsuya Nakashima, who also directed Kamikaze Girls, Memories of Matsuko and Confessions. Those films are memorable. This one's a lot like Memories of Matsuko in its outrageous style, but underneath that it might also be the weakest of them.
It's still worth a look, though. What story it does have is likeable and its visual style is unique.
It's set in a children's picture book world. It's ridiculously over-designed. It has a doctor who dresses up as Peter Pan and can sprinkle fairy dust. The scarier of its two extremely threatening nurses is a vampire with fangs, cleavage and a foot-high beehive hairdo. People can turn into CGI cartoon creatures. I started playing the film, saw what was on-screen and immediately went "wow". It's a visual feast. Almost every frame is a work of kitsch art. Silly, but a joy to look at.
As for the plot, it's set in a hospital that's full of weirdos. Most of them are relatively unimportant supporting characters, but there are two who matter: Ounuki (played by the great Kouji Yakusho) and Paco (a little girl). Ounuki is a wealthy businessman who built it up from nothing and takes pride in being a bastard. He'll kick a cat, then laugh to the other patients about the way it went away limping afterwards. He "reads" Paco's pop-up book to her, but in his reading it's a fable about how the weak should die and only the strong should survive. His favourite phrase is, "The fact that you know me makes my blood boil!"
He doesn't think his fellow patients deserve to have him in their memories. He wants to be forgotten.
Paco is an orphan with a memory condition and a magical pop-up book. She's probably the only person in the hospital who doesn't hate Ounuki, because she doesn't remember what he did and said yesterday.
This is the story of Ounuki's growth into a human being, obviously. (And a frog.) I'd have to think for a while to decide what the florid style is adding to the narrative, but it's impossible to imagine the film without it. It is what it is. It's a mad, perfect confection. I called the supporting cast "unimportant", but they do all get some background, backstory or motivation. It has style, obviously, but also charm. Definitely recommended to anyone who likes hunting down oddball eccentricities.