The countdown to the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival continues! And here comes a pair of movies from Japan; one is about the healing power of music, whereas the other is about the damage that manga has ability to cause…
Funuke, Show Some Love You Losers!
In a small town, located deep in the boonies, an elderly woman runs into the middle of traffic to protect a cat just sitting there. The husband runs after her, and in the blink of any eye, both become comically large bloodstains on the road. Best of all, their deaths happen right in front of the painfully meek Kiyomi (Aimi Satsukawa), the youngest of two daughters. At the funeral service we’re introduced to the son, Shinji (Masatoshi Nagase), aka Kiyomi’s stepbrother; his stoicism is immediately made apparent, along with a few important facts. Like how the patriarch had quite the drinking and gambling problem, the latter of which has resulted in debts that our new head of the household must now pay off. Shinji also has a wife, Machiko (Hiromi Nagasaku), whose wide-eyed optimism is insanely charming. Unfortunately, the only time in which Shinji displays any emotion is when he treats Machiko like utter dogsh*t; maybe it’s his way of dealing stress of keeping the family afloat, not that it’s a valid excuse. Anyhow the real hot mess of the family is Sumika (Eriko Sato; last seen in R100), the eldest daughter, who shows up late for the actual funeral itself. She’s the only child who made it out of town, to pursue a career in acting, one that’s more or less nonexistent due to her horrible attitude and even worse acting chops. And Sumika is more than willing to admit that she’s not getting any roles, but places the blame squarely on Kiyomi’s shoulders. Why?
Well, a few years back, Kiyomi decided to not only draw a manga about her insane older sister (which detailed the time she got angry at dad for not giving her money, to the point that she tried brandished a knife, along with her screwing a bunch of dudes across town, again for money). Kiyomi then submitted it to horror publication for a contest they were running, and guess what? She won and it got published! Which brought great shame to the family, in particular Sumika. Though the comic being a curse, hence why she can’t get any acting gigs, is total BS of course. Anyhow, it becomes clear that Sumika is only back home to confront her brother, who can no longer afford the monthly stipend that dad used to provide. And because there’s nothing for her in Tokyo, Sumika basically lounges around and does absolutely nothing, other than write letters to some up and coming director in hopes of buttering him up, so he’ll cast her in his next flick (though, funny enough, he actually responds) and torture poor Kiyomi (at one point she shows up while lil sis is taking a bath and pours in scolding hot water, with camera in hand, to take nudie pics when Kiyomi finally runs out, to then spread all over the place). But the thing is, Kiyomi feels legit guilty about causing Sumika so much heartache, since some of it is real. Guilty enough to put the pen and paper away. Well, initially. Oh, I should maybe also mention how Sumika and Shinji, because they’re not blood related, are involved in an incestuous relationship. So yeah, the family is all kinds of mess up.
Japan has a penchant for dark comedies, but oh man, Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers! is about as dark as they come. Speaking as a fan of the genre, even I found myself feeling uncomfortable in spots, and whenever that happens during any movie, I usually cannot find it in me to recommend to others (not bragging, just stating; I simply have a higher threshold than most other folks). Not this time; I cannot recommend Funuke enough. In fact, it gets my strongest recommendation thus far, though to be fair, I’ve only scratched the surface of this year’s NYAFF. For you hardcore Japanese cinephiles out there, try imagining the absolute perfect blend of Katsuhito Ishii’s The Taste of Tea and Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q. At the very least, it was actually refreshing to see a film about a person detailing one’s oddball family via manga… which I’d refrain from flat out calling it a trope, but I’ve seen my fair share of something similar (not sure if you’ve heard, but comics books are kinda popular in Japan, literally everyone reads them)… yet have it completely blow up in the face of its creator, and leading to serious consequences. That alone is why I’ll be pushing this movie hard to all my cartoonist buddies. So if that’s maybe you, and you’re able to take a break from getting ready for San Diego Comic Con, Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers! plays Monday, June 29, at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickets here).
La La La at Rock Bottom
Am pretty sure La La La at Rock Bottom will be one of the hottest tickets of NYAFF 2015 due to its director’s pedigree, who previously helmed one of the biggest hits of NYAFF 2006: Linda, Linda, Linda. We first meet Shigeo (Subaru Shibutani, who’s mostly known as the front man for the boy band Kanjani Eight, though he’s an accomplished actor as well) just as he sets foot out of jail after a stint. Some no good for nothing friends pick him up and provide transport, so they’re not so bad after all, maybe; almost immediately after he’s dropped off, some other thugs appear and beat the ever living piss out of him. To the point that he suffers memory loss. So completely dazed and confused and covered in blood, Shigeo stumbles around town until he stumbles across a band, one performing modern enka, to mostly families in a park. Then, for whatever reason, he pushes the singer aside, grabs the mic and starts singing, before promptly passing out. He’s taken back to the band’s stomping grounds, a recording studio that doubles as a karaoke joint on the side, run by Kasumi (Fumi Nikaido), who is also the ensemble’s manager. Kasumi takes pity on Shigeo, though he has no idea that’s his name, cuz of amnesia, so she starts referring to him as Pochi, like the stray dog she once took care off. Until it ran away. Yet as kind as the gesture may sound, she puts him to work around the studio, doing mostly odd jobs. Kasumi also exhibits a touch as nails demeanor, which should come to no surprise, along with the underlining reasons that are revealed a bit later on.
Kasumi tries her best to help Pochi jog his memory, but her methods prove ineffective. Though every once in a while, some ever so slight glimmer of the past pops up randomly, like a particular dish he happens to be adept at making, which she makes sure to catalog in a notebook. At a certain point, the band’s official front man gets into an accident and a replacement is needed. Well, it so happens that the crowd at the park really dug Shigeo/Pochi’s outburst, so he agrees to be the guest vocalist at their next gig. Mid performance is when the first real echo of the past is heard (that being his voice, singing the same song, recorded in the past and on audio cassette), but Pochi has zero idea what to make of it at this point. Not long after, Pochi crosses paths with a homeless guy wearing a jacket that had stolen from him, back when he was unconscious and bloody in the middle of the street. The item of clothing contains clues regarding Pochi’s identity, and not only does Kasumi find out that this quite and gentle soul was once rather soulless, but was also a sh*tty father. Shen then realizes that maybe it’s for the best to let the past remain in the past. Alas, one of Shigeo’s former cohorts discovers his new life and things come crashing down, right before the big show no less. And much of what happens is somewhat on the predictable side, along with most of the characters; it’s also not quite the shocker to discover that Kasumi’s parents passed away, leaving her the recording studio, which she has to keep running in their memory, plus how the band is the only family she has.
But that’s the thing; it’s not so much what La La La at Rock Bottom has to say, it’s how it’s being told. And instead of telling you something, the movie largely just shows it; this is a movie that will make you go “Gee, maybe the reason why I find most romantic comedies in the US so dumb is how everyone says they love each other but never actually expresses it.” You can thank the director for respecting the audience and knowing they’re not dumb, along with the phenomenal acting chops of the leading man, who is able to take the rather clichéd “touch guy jerk who grows a heart of gold thanks to the power of music” archetype and make it legitimately engaging and convincing. Subaru Shibutani is so good that you actually won’t mind hear him singing the same song over and over and over again (as with Linda, Linda, Linda, though at least there you went in expecting to have the title song beaten into your head, much like how Shigeo gets pummeled). Yet the best parts are the quiet, intimate moments between Pochi and Kasumi, which largely come out of the blue. I especially love how one illustrates a little known fact about Japanese people, and that’s how they LOVE Burger King. They’re almost good enough to let one really stupid and silly part at the conclusion slide. Hey, it’s a movie from Japan, and there’s a 50/50 chance that the ending will be hella dumb. Anyhow, if you’re the type who is impervious to feel good movies, let La La La at Rock Bottom see if that’s true or not; you’ve got two chances, either Thursday, July 2, at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickets for that screening here) or Saturday July 11, at the SVA Theatre (nab tickets for that showing here).