It's brilliant, but I can't watch it. I bailed. I was cringing too much. Fawlty Towers can do that to me too.
The plot involves a guy (Satoshi Tsumabuki) who's fallen foul of the local gangsters. He was sleeping with the boss's girl (Eri Fukatsu), which doesn't say much for his intelligence. Come to think of it, I'm not even wild about his taste in women. She's sexy, but she's also a bitch who dumps Tsumabuki in the shit to this homicidal gang boss and then thinks she can shrug off Tsumabuki's reaction afterwards by giggling at him. What's more, he chose this woman when the cast also contains Haruka Ayase. No, seriously. Haruka Ayase. Is he mad or just blind? Does he have a brain dysfunction? Ayase doesn't even have a boyfriend. I think she likes Tsumabuki, or at least she's concerned when we think he's doing to get killed.
Anyway, Tsumabuki buys himself some time by pretending to know someone the gangsters are looking for, but of course he's never met his guy in his life and now he's got to do some quick thinking. Whoops. Not his strong suit.
Good news: he comes up with a plan. Bad news: it's terrifying. Our hero is going to pretend to be a movie director and hire an actor to pretend to be this mysterious hitman, but without telling him what's going on. The gangsters will think he's found their target. The actor will think everyone's making a movie. You don't need me to tell you that this is going to be excruciating. It really is brilliant, mind you. After initial misgivings, the actor he picks (Koichi Sato) decides he's found a dream role in which he can be cool and magnificent. Things move way too fast for (my) comfort and before long I'm spasming in terrified laughter as this plan looks to be turning into a train wreck within thirty seconds of the important people laying eyes on each other. My nerves can't take it and I abandon ship, but note that this isn't even a third of the way into the film.
The important name here is Koki Mitani, the writer/director behind The Uchoten Hotel
. If you see his name on something, buy it blind. This guy is seriously good. He makes big, theatrical films that are at once adapting his own stage productions and yet also luscious to look at. With this one, he said that the sky was the limit for the budget. It's a big 1940s studio screwball comedy and as such it's straddling two eras. Technically it's set in the present day, but his fictional Japanese town of Sucago (Chicago?) is a gorgeous 1930s confection in which you wouldn't be surprised to see Al Capone or Humphrey Bogart walk around a corner. What we see of the Japanese movie industry feels like golden-age Hollywood. Even the film-within-a-film I saw is black-and-white pastiche and apparently a parody of a real movie.
There's a lot of minimalism in Japanese cinema, but for once here we have a film you want to see if possible in a movie theatre.
The cast is perfect. Koichi Sato is running away with the movie as the duped star of the show, while Satoshi Tsumabuki somehow doesn't come across as stupid and indeed makes his character's terrifying decisions seem almost reasonable. Haruka Ayase hadn't yet had much to do when I bailed, but I can see several ways in which she'd have become crucial to the story. C'mon. She's Haruka Ayase. Oh, and here you'll also see the only acting role of 92-year-old director Kon Ichikawa, who died in February 2008 and the film is dedicated to his memory.
There's nothing even middling about this film. It's sheer class in every department and it's no surprise at all that Koki Mitani had another monster hit with this one. Apparently it had Japanese cinema audiences laughing loudly all the way through, which is freaky since over there it's regarded as bad manners to laugh in a theatre and people normally try hard not to do it. Definitely recommended. Don't worry about my squeamishness, because I have trouble with anything akin to embarrassment comedy. Incidentally the magic hour is a period around dusk when the light takes on a different quality and anything you shoot looks beautiful. Good title. It fits.