EXPECTATIONS: A off-kilter comedy with a heartwarming side. Plus, FUMI NIKAIDO!
REVIEW: Suzuki Matsuo is a very talented man that not only is he a film director, but he is also a director of theater, novelist, actor and even a screenwriter. But unfortunately, I can only judge him from his work on film. His previous films (consisting only of three) were strikingly unconventional pieces of work (the energetically bizarre romantic comedy Otakus in Love; and the compellingly schizophrenic Welcome to the Quiet Room) and I hoped that A Farewell to Jinu (Jinu means money) would be like the latter, especially with the talented cast on display. Fortunately, it is exactly what people would expect of Matsuo’s work in terms of a bizarre premise, weird yet hilarious characters and a spirited sense of humour. But unfortunately, it still has his weaknesses on display, which is a bit of a disappointment.
The slice-of-life (or to be accurate, hysteria) story begins with Ryuhei Matsuda as Takeharu, a bank clerk who has a strange allergy to money due to a traumatic incident at the bank. Because of his allergy, he decides to move to a village called Kamuroba, Tokyo, living in a shack. He is welcomed with open arms due to his youthful looks, considering the town is mostly populated with pensioners. The characters consist of Yosaburo (the manic Sadao Abe), the mayor of Kamuroba, his wife Akiko (the sweet Takako Matsu), teenager Aoba (the sassy Fumi Nikaido), god Nakanussan (the imposing Toshiyuki Nishida who really plays a god) and many others. Insisting that he will work for food instead of money, he works at Akiko’s grocery store. Soon, the town learns of Takeharu’s allergy and begin to see him in a different light. To make matters worse, the town also learns that Takeharu is quite wealthy (with 6 million yen, approximating around $50000 US), so Aoba, who is working alongside a gangster with laughably bad fashion and style (the amusing YosiYosi Arakawa), tries to seduce the money out of him. From there, Takeharu goes on a wild ride all to avoid his fear. Will be run away or will he fight back?
First off, let’s talk about the bad. In all of Matsuo’s films, there is a major flaw that brings the quality down, which is the storytelling. The majority of the film feels like a bunch of skits joined together to make a feature-length film and it shows. Very little of the storytelling feels organic and it can be jarring or even overbearing at times. Speaking of overbearing, the film contains too many subplots that it drags the running time to 2 hours, which is not really suitable for a comedy. Plus, the subplots are so plentiful; it threatens to overcome the character of Takeharu of his leading man status (similar to the main character of The Raid 2). It doesn’t help that the tone of the film changes in the second half of the film, which becomes a bit too serious, losing some of the film’s humour.
But despite of all those flaws, A Farewell to Jinu is still an entertaining ride, thanks to its surrealistic sense of humour, the wonderfully game cast/characters and some surprising pathos. How can you not be the least bit amused when you discover a premise about a man who becomes allergic to money? Working with director Matsuo for the second time, Ryuhei Matsuda puts his acting skills to good use as Takehara. In other words, his understated acting provides giggles and surprising sympathy to the role, who could have easily been seen as a bit of a dull dolt. The physical comedy that Matsuda pulls off is very funny, considering he’s the comedic straight man out of the cast. Sadao Abe handles his role really well, especially when his character reveals his true side. Takako Matsu plays the nice wife role effectively although she could’ve played the role in her sleep and Fumi Nikaido is sexy and funny as Aoba, who has an odd relationship with Takehara that is more like double-crossers than love interests. But the biggest standout is Toshiyuki Nishida (who I’ve nostalgically enjoyed in the TV series, Monkey), whose character is hilariously worshiped by the townspeople as a god. Even the small supporting roles are ably played, with Hairi Katagiri and YosiYosi Arakawa standing out with their peculiar characters.
The humour of the film is delivered from many types, from the dialogue (a character’s crack about Hairi Katagiri’s appearance had me laughing), the physical (Matsuda’s allergy bouts are hilarious) to raunchy (thanks to Fumi Nikaido) the meta (director Koki Mitani gets referenced) or just plain strange (Aoba’s “serious” injury), but surprisingly, not only are the gags are very funny, but they are all organic to the situation at hand, if not to the actual story. But from such a ridiculous premise, there are some surprising moments that ring true to the audience, particularly Japanese viewers. It’s no secret that Japan has gone through tough times over the years like the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, (which is often reference in films like Himizu and The Land of Hope), but in A Farewell to Jinu, there is a positive message about the use of money in the world that rings true and is delivered with enough subtlety, without coming off as didactic or cheap. And despite the flaws in the storytelling and the many subplots, the ending, while a bit overlong, does complete all the story threads in a satisfying fashion, especially when it comes to the character of Nakanussan.
A Farewell to Jinu is a weird yet highly amusing comedy that is, disappointingly, on the same level as Matsuo’s previous films, but the talented cast, the sense of humour and the premise makes the film worth watching.
The cast all give great performances
The film’s sense of humour brings lots of laughs
Some surprising elements
Overlong running time
Changes in tone hinder the film’s humour
Cast: Ryuhei Matsuda, Sadao Abe, Takako Matsu, Fumi Nikaido, Toshiyuki Nishida, Hairi Katagiri, YoshiYoshi Arakawa, Suzuki Matsuo
Director: Suzuki Matsuo
Screenwriter: Suzuki Matsuo, based on the manga by Mikio Igarashi