Tomoko recommended this to me. She's thinking of buying the DVD when it comes out. What's more, she's right. One song had me almost in tears of laughter. It perhaps goes on a bit long, but it's got some superb jokes.
Basically, it's a gigantic leg-pull of Saitama prefecture. (Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, with an average size of about 8,000 square kilometres.) People from Saitama love the film, by the way, and practically wet themselves laughing. It's the landlocked prefecture above Tokyo that's generally regarded as a sleepy load of nothing. It's got no tourist spots. No one visits it. No one wants to have come from there.
The film has two plots.
The framing story involves a girl who's going to get married and move to Tokyo, about which she's delighted because it means escaping from Saitama. Unfortunately she's being driven to her engagement party by her Saitama-loving father and her (usually) placidly agreeing mother. This is pretty funny, but it's not where the film really lifts off. The family's listening to a radio serial in the car, you see. It's about the Hero of Saitama. We see it and OH MY GOD.
In the world of this radio drama, Tokyo is a Versailles-like palace of 18th century French aristocrats and swooning maidens in wigs. They have Social Status Police. "That alarm! They've detected a Saitamaese!"
Saitama on the other hand is a medieval hovel of wooden shacks, hand carts and peasants. Their trains have to wait for gnu on the tracks. "Let's eat some weeds."
I'm laughing now, just at the memory of it.
It's funny partly because its pastiches are so specific. You can tell what era of Japanese history the peasants come from. Tokyo isn't any old camp fantasy, but specifically Takarazuka and the Rose of Versailles. I'm not completely sure who the Chiba Liberation Army were supposed to be, but they're so ridiculous that I can tell they're a pastiche of something. (I want to say that Ningyougeki Sangokushi puppet TV series, but I still haven't watched Tomoko's DVDs and it's probably something related but different. Those white wigs definitely say "puppets" to me, though.) Aesthetically, that inner story's mental. I just about died when we visited Skull Island.
The film's also funny because the jokes are so laser-targeted. It knows what it's talking about with Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba and their rivalries. The film swaps between the fantasy and the framing story partly to remind us that its gags aren't just random silliness.
Bizarrely, the film's based on a manga. This seems weird because it's such a mad explosion of filmmaking that it's hard to imagine it in another medium, but apparently significant changes were made. The director added all the Chiba material because he's from Chiba, for instance. My guess is that the framing story is film-only and the radio serial is the manga. That said, though, the manga creator's other works include the deranged surreal comedy Patalliro!, which also got a live-action movie adaptation this year and sounds tempting. Both original manga are apparently Boys' Love, incidentally, but the film's upturned that by casting Fumi Nikaidou as one of the main boys. (She's the one who looks like a blonde Movellan.)
This isn't this director's first strange film either. His last one, Konya, Romansu Gekijo de, is about a young movie director who falls in love with a character from a black-and-white movie. That sounds tempting too.
It's brilliant. The end song! The sight gags! Perhaps a bit long, but still brilliant.
"We need proof that you're not from Saitama! Step on this rice cracker!"