A comedy that's not to my taste, to be honest. It's a little too broad and unrealistic, even if after a while I acclimatised.
Satoshi Miki is a well-known Japanese writer/director of offbeat comedies, occasionally with the world's greatest titles. Most of them sound normal (Adrift in Toyko, In the Pool) but I picked this one up entirely for its title and I'd been planning to follow it up with Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected
. He has a repertory company of favourite actors, including his wife Eri Fuse, and he takes his comedy seriously. He thinks that "sometimes American comedy is not real comedy", for instance. "I think that this because of my influence from Monthy Python. When I watched Monty Python for the first time, that was my impression: That they're not doing anything funny, but there's definitely something subtly funny. American comedy, like you said is really 'in your face' and like 'YOU MUST LAUGH!'... I really like something that's a little bit twisted. I don't want to make a film that's conventional; it needs some sort of twist in the plot."
That's certainly true of this movie. Yusuke Iseya (13 Assassins
, Memories of Matsuko
and, um, Casshern
) is a reporter who's been told by his boss (Miki Mizuno) to drop dead. That's not a figure of speech. She wants him to take a drug called Deathfix that will make you clinically dead for an unspecified period of time, then resurrect you. Unfortunately she knows nothing about this drug, or even whether it's a drug in the first place. She doesn't know if it works. She doesn't know if you'll stay dead or not.
The scene where Mizuno tells Iseya to do this sets the tone for the movie. She doesn't just give him an order. She tells him "if you love me, you'll kill yourself", then after a few silly minutes' discussion of this announces that she's just had an incontinence accident and runs to the toilet.
Iseya then sets off on a quest to do as he's told. Why?
The whole film's like that. No one's normal, with the partial exception of our straight-man protagonist. His best friend is a hippy (Suzuki Matsuo) who looks and acts drug-addled, whose first on-screen business is making mermaids with Barbie dolls and live fish. There's a S&M fetish club that's gone out of business. There's a kooky girl (Rinko Kikuchi) who's slit her wrists so often that you can grate radishes on the scars. There's a yakuza gang run by a dwarf. There's a squawky female yakuza (Eri Fuse) who just sounds... wrong. There's a naked homeless loony. There's a carnival show in which a man with no legs says he's going to kill a topless girl in front of his audience.
None of it is believable. They all feel like sketch show characters, but not so grotesquely as to make it feel like a sketch show. Instead it's a normal-looking movie with (approximately) a narrative and so at first you'll probably expect realism. This would be wrong. Any such assumption would be a mistake and will lead to discomfort, irritation and/or itching.
"Acquired taste" is the key phrase. Occasionally realism gets bent (e.g. Nicolas Cage's face in fish guts), but basically the film's unusual tension comes from putting all this in an apparently normal world. Had everything been equally ludicrous (e.g. Crazy Lips
), there wouldn't be this dissonance. You'd just relax and go with the flow. However that said, my brain eventually bent enough to fit into Satoshi Miki's worldview. Besides, I like what the film's talking about. It's about people's relationship with death and the afterlife. I really rather liked where it eventually took this, especially since some earlier sleight-of-hand had blindsided me into missing the obvious, and I think Miki has some interesting material. I like what he's saying. The film's still silly, but it stops being silly nonsense.
To quote him again: "the adventures my characters have don't really change the world they live in; more how they interpret it. You remember Shane, the classic Western? He comes into the lives of a very ordinary family, changing the structure forever, so when he leaves and their lives go back to normal their view on the world and themselves as been changed. [...] Change of perception is the most important message in my films. If you look at you life from a different angle, you'll be happier or feel differently about it."
This film isn't about narrative. It's more of an experience. People go on a journey and meet people even odder than themselves. The "throwing stones in the water" scene evoked the film's attitude, for me, in that it's a perfectly normal scene except that the characters are doing something pointless and slightly surreal from time to time in it. Have you ever wondered if Old Man Tickling could be a job? No? Well, this film has. I might yet check out Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected
, although I've heard it said that his TV show Jikou Keisatsu is even better. I think I've managed to become quite fond of this film, but I had to work hard at it to do so.