EXPECTATIONS: A riotous comedy with a lot more character and emotional resonance than expected.
REVIEW: The ensemble film trope has always been a favourite of mine and has been a fantastic staple for films, ever since the first ensemble action film; 1954’s action masterpiece Seven Samurai. With many opportunities to gather up an all-star cast, a story involving teamwork that everyone can relate to, a lively vibe enhanced by scenes of camaraderie; films with this much potential can be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. We also have director Yoshihiro Nakamura, famous for his character-led storytelling and his versatility with thrillers, horrors, dramas and comedies; sometimes happening all at once. So when I heard that he was doing an ensemble comedy with an all-star cast with the likes of Sadao Abe, Eita, Yuko Takeuchi and others, I was psyched. Will the film live up to its title or will it fail magnificently?
Set in 18th century Japan, the residents of a town, Yoshioka, are living in hard times, due to the state of poverty and the high expenses of land taxes and logistics. Not to mention that the Lord Date is financially strapped. But an ingeniously simple idea from a simple tea grower (Eita) gets everyone talking that could bring the whole town out of their misfortunes. Nine of the wealthiest (including Sadao Abe, Satoshi Tsumabaki and others) of the town will pool all of their resources to sell and anonymously loan their earnings to their Lord, therefore collecting the interest earned and distribute it to the townspeople. That is of course unless they caught and the price for that is death by beheading. So yeah, no big deal.
So what did I think of this film? Unfortunately, this was a massive disappointment on almost every level. Never have I thought to see a comedy about an inspirational true story be so underwhelming. The story itself had so much potential, but it never gets realized and some of the major flaws are the pacing and the plot. The running time of the film is 129 minutes, which is way too long for a story like this already, but with the plot involving 80% of the film involving people essentially begging people to give money, it drags for an eternity to actually gets to its goal.
What makes it worse is that there are so many characters to make track of, making the film needlessly convoluted. The majority of them do not have enough of a personality to make them stand out, making them interchangeable from each other. The tone of the film is also confusing, as if Nakamura wasn’t sure to make this film a comedy or a drama. The trailer of the film certainly markets the film as a comedy, but apart from the first five minutes and a certain actor’s performance, I just didn’t see much of an attempt to make this film funny. I struggled to follow the plot and even remember the character’s names, and what’s worse is that I just didn’t care. When the film reaches its ending, I did feel some kind of relief but I’m sure that it was from the fact that it ended, rather than the journey of the characters.
The actors try valiantly to stand out, but they fail to add much life their cardboard cutouts. Sadao Abe does make his downtrodden character quite sympathetic while Eita does OK with his character, showing a youthful side as well as an authoritative side that is well-realized. The rest of the supporting cast don’t make much of an impression, with the big exception of Yuko Takeuchi, who is a delight in every second of her screen-time. Adding some mirth and vitality to the proceedings, Takeuchi woke me up every time I saw her, and I wished she was in the movie more often.
The film is well made though, with production designs and the cinematography evoking the time period really well. I can’t really say the same about the music, which is annoyingly repetitive, especially during scenes when plans upon plans are sketched out by the characters.
An experience of boredom in a film is something I can’t forgive, and this film is riddled with it. This is one of Nakamura’s films coming out in 2016. The other is The Inerasable, a horror/thriller starring Yuko Takeuchi as the lead and I hope that it will compensate for this letdown.
Some good acting (particularly Yuko Takeuchi)
Good production values
The story is dreadfully boring
Too many underdeveloped and interchangeable characters
The plot is needlessly convoluted
Cast: Sadao Abe, Eita, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Yuko Takeuchi , Ryuhei Matsuda, Yuzuru Hanyu, Karen Iwata, Maiko Yamamoto, Tsutomu Yamazaki
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenwriters: Yoshihiro Nakamura, Kenichi Suzuki, Based on the novel “Mushi no Nihonjin” by Michifumi Isoda