Here we go! It’s day one (okay, technically night one) of the 2015 edition of the New York Asian Festival. Am fairly hyped for the opening film, which I’ve yet to see, hence no review. But what I do have is the low-down on another high profile motion picture this year, along with another that touches upon something that’s been in the news way too much these days (i.e. cyber bullying)…

Tokyo Tribe

For the past several years, the highlight of every New York Asian Film Festival has been the latest and greatest from Sion Sono, who is starting to approach Takashi Miike-esuqe levels of notoriety, slowly but steadily. One of the many reasons why NYAFF 2009 remains such a stand out installment to this very day is largely due to (in addition to Hausu, Blind Love, Fish Story, and Hard Revenge Milly) Sono’s 4 hour epic Love Exposure. He’s also the man behind last year’s hit Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, though my personal favorite will always be Bad Movie, which I consider to be a legit contender to the tile of the Citizen Kane of guerrilla filmmaking. Anyhow, this year we’ve got Tokyo Tribe, proving once again that one must expect the unexpected when it comes to the director. Though it would appear that the NYAFF is betting that it’ll be a hit with this year’s crowd, given that it’s playing twice (I definitely miss the days in which most everything at the NYAFF played more than once; would certainly make my reviews a helluva lot more useful), as the final film in their big 4th of July line-up plus to help close the festival as a whole. Hell, it’s even provided the backbone for this year’s teaser…

Where to start? Based upon a manga, Tokyo Tribe is a hip hop musical that’s been accurately described as “equal parts The Warriors and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” It presents an alternate version of Tokyo that’s been divided into territories ruled by, you guessed it, tribes. Everyone engages in petty squabbles, completely unaware of the bigger picture, which is maintained by Big Buppa, the yakuza boss who’s also a cannibal portrayed by (Takashi Miike vet) Riki Takeuchi. Lending a hand are his two sons; Nkoi is the biological one, who dwells in a room adorned with victims that have been turned into furniture (imagine the Korova Milk Bar in Clockwork Orange, except real people pretending to be its statues), and Merra is the adopted one, portrayed by Ryohei Suzuki (last seen as the heroic lead of yet another past NYAFF favorite, Hentai Kamen). Both are fairly bloodthirsty, though the latter is particularly nutso; rounding out the family is Buppa’s gal pal who sports gigantic breasts and a young girl that does beatbox while serving tea (not only is she the best rapper in the entire movie, she’s the best character as well; too bad she’s barely present, but her scant few minutes are the price of admission alone, TRUST ME). Events are set into motion when the latest cargo of hapless young ladies arrive at Buppa’s mansion, who are either destined to be the latest additions at the whorehouse located in Sagu Town (the red light district that lies within Buppa’s territory, where one can also find assorted classic Sega arcade machines, btw) or become what’s next for dinner. The most virginal of them all ends up being a total ass kicker; Sunmi (Nana Seino, who aside from Riki Takeuchi’s hamming it up and the aforementioned beatboxing tea girl, is the third real stand out) catches the eye of both Nkoi and Merra, who thusly try to have their ways with her. Yup, they flat out attempt to rape Sunmi. I’ll address that point in a bit. Anyways, at the same time, one of Merra’s cronies has tricked a couple of members of the Musashino Saru into entering Big Buppa domain. The Musashino Saru, fyi, is the one tribe filled with gangstas that are all about peace, love, and harmony. They also hang at a restaurant that’s very much like Denny’s, expect here it’s Penny’s.

Tera, Musashino Saru’s leader, goes after them with his lieutenant Kai (Young Dais, whose a rapper for reals) by his side. Kai ends up rescuing Sunmi, though Tera is killed in the crossfire. Meanwhile Jadakins, a tall black guy who appears to be channeling the spirit of Laurence Fishburne’s character from The Matrix (but with hair), along with his interpreter Kamekichi, show up on the behalf of the High Priest (Big Buppa’s higher power) on a mission to bring back his missing daughter. Who is… yup… Sunmi. And on top of all that, the bad guys unleashes the Bukuro Wu-Ronz across all territories, a tribe with no land of their own, who are basically guns for hire that handily decimates all the other tribes. Who, it should be noted, are all shaken to the core upon hearing news of the death of Tera; he earned much respect among all the other tribal leaders, kinda like Cyrus from The Warriors. It’s then up to Kai unify all the squabbling tribes, since a unified front is the only thing that’s take down the Bukuro Wu-Ronz and Big Buppa once in for all. Is he successful? Let’s just say that there’s lots of fighting, and lots of rapping. Sounds interesting, right? Is Tokyo Tribe worth checking out? Well that’s the thing… often I’ll hear people go “I wanna see one of these totally off the wall, totally extremes movies from Japan I keep hearing about!” And as they say, careful what you wish for; Tokyo Tribe might be the most extreme movie Sion Sono has made yet, in both good ways and bad. On one hand, the production values are absolutely bonkers; I honestly cannot recall the last movie I saw from Japan that’s as flat out opulent. Aside from the phenomenal set design and elaborate costumes, the camera work is equally impressive; early on, Sono channels Orson Welles again with a brilliantly executed tracking shot (a la Touch of Evil) to help set the scene; it all comes together to create a staggeringly convincing world, never-mind the cheesy J-rap. But just as one has reached a certain comfort zone, in which the brain has begun processing everything, including what comes off as language… you witness a female cop being overpowered by a thug, who rips off her shirt and exposes her naked breasts, which he first manhandles and then traces with a blade, as he casually explains the lay of the land (so this particular scene happens very early on), with the woman who initially is writhing in terror eventually writhing in pleasure. Yup, it’s that kind of movie. As in, Tokyo Tribe may not be for you.

And maybe it’s not for me either, but for other reasons; in the end, the rapping really didn’t do it for me. 90% of me was able to accept a bunch of Tokyo tough guys carrying themselves around like they grew up in South Central LA. Unfortunately, there’s that other 10%. Though what really did in for me was how the majority of the characters didn’t have much personality. Perhaps it’s an unfair criticism, since these individuals are barely in the movie. Then again, the reason why The Warriors (sorry to constantly bring them up) is so memorable is how it’s chock full of characters you barely get a taste of, like the Baseball Furies, yet they’re able to create a lasting impression nonetheless. Thankfully the primary cast here is super strong; even if none of the raps are infectious (which is the true sign of a musical being a success or failure), then at least Riki Takeuchi’s giddiness sure as hell is. In the end, Tokyo Tribe is legit compelling, even remarkable. I’d go as far to say that, yes, I enjoyed myself. It’s just that, as a Sion Sono flick, I was hoping to enjoy myself a tad bit more (never-mind what I said at the top about expectations). Despite the presence of some rather problematic elements (which, in the end, is hardly foreign territory to those familiar with rap), I still recommend Tokyo Tribe. One more: it’s all about the beatboxing tea server. As noted, you’ve got two chances to check it out; either Saturday, July 4, 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).


Back to the subject of yearly traditions; each year the NYAFF has offered at least one movie in which the narrative is largely delivered via social media. This time around it’s Socialphobia, which aside from setting box office records for a South Korean indie feature, is based on a true story. And much like last year’s The Snow White Murder Case, there’s a body and a mystery behind it, one that can only be solved by reading between the tweets. The stars of the show are Ji-Woong (Byun Yo-Han) and Yong-Min (Lee Joo Seung), two police cadets. The former knows well enough to keep his phone locked away, until the semester ends, whereas the former spends all his time engrossed in Twitter drama, much like everyone else. Things kick off with the news of young Korean army solider who deserted his post and then killed himself, which becomes a trending topic. The prevailing sentiment is that of sadness, though mostly cuz it’s interpreted as just another sign of the sad state of affair for Korean males, except one girl who basically says the guy was a loser and is now burning in hell. This pisses plenty of people off, especially Yong-Min, who starts flamming her online. Even Ji-Woong gets in on the action, by borrowing his friend’s phone to tweet some shade himself, which naturally proves to be a pretty stupid move for someone who wants a career in law enforcement. Later that night, Yong-Min comes up with the bright idea of confronting the “internet bitch”, to conduct a “real life PKing” (PK stands for Player Killing in MMORPGs). Because she vociferously attacks anyone who dares to criticize her (at one point she uses the term “kimchi-men”, which is supposed to be derogatory, though I don’t know why exactly), the internet as a whole bands together to dig up and freely distribute a wealth of personal info, so tracking her down is not an issue. Yong-Min brings with him a posse, which includes a vlogging geek that goes by Mr. Babble, who decides to livestream the entire excursion. And what do they find when they arrive at the residence of the “internet bitch”? Her body dangling from the ceiling. And what’s the first thing that comes into the minds of most everyone at the scene? To start deleting incriminating tweets.

The resulting police investigation deems the death of the young woman, whose name is actually Ha-yeong, a suicide. Though both Ji-Woong and Yong-Min discover that their dreams of being policemen are effectively over; aside from the fact that they tampered with evidence (Ji-Woong took the body down, believing that Ha-yeong was still alive), they both threatened her online. Ji-Woong in particular is devastated, whereas Yong-Min believes that Ha-yeong was actually murdered. Because, why would someone invite others to meet her face to face (she was indeed expecting a bunch of angry internet dorks to show up, and was even goading them on) just to kill herself right beforehand? Also, why was the door open when they arrived? Furthermore, why was the dryer running? Who kills themselves in the middle of doing laundry? Yong-Min reunites the gang with his theory, which they all believe (Ji-Woong is particularly invested since the truth is the key to him graduating as a cop), and thus their investigation begins. One of their first discoveries is how Ha-yeong was actually Becca, a “keyboard warrior” (translation: she dabbled in StarCraft) whose high level of play was matched only by her affinity for trash talk, resulting in various online grudges that are widely known. Enter Jang Se-min, their first prime suspect, who aside from being a guy who hated Becca guts, also supposedly raped another girl that he met online, so he’s basically scum. So how does Ji-Woong and the rest of the Scooby gang confront this guy? By tweeting at him, of course. Yet Jang Se-min manages to impress everyone with his pleas of innocence, though more impressive is his vast fortune (though Yong-Min still thinks he’s a POS). Nevertheless, Jang Se-min’s alibi appears to have merit when he reveals how Ha-yeong’s Twitter account had been hacked, and all that trash talk near the end was courtesy of yet another rival, whose handle is Dodori (long story short: Dodori was the moderator of a popular StarCraft forum, but Ha-yeong found out the truth and exposed him, and in the process <.em>”ruined his life”). And thus the hunt continues, aided by a forum they set to gather clues as well as generate interest from denizens of the net, who start believing that Ha-yeong was indeed killed after all.

The ensuing investigation is naturally filled with all sorts of discoveries, primarily as they pertain to Ha-yeong’s real life, which turns out to be not all that different from her volatile online persona. There’s also a massive twist near the end which I’m not going to give away for obvious reasons, but also because it would just sound so dumb written out, but works out rather nicely in the film, mostly because it’s so plausible. Unlike most other movies that leans heavily upon social media in a similar manner (and trust me, there’s been a lot of them over the past few years, from South Korea alone), which tries to teach everyone a lesson in the end that we should all learn from, it’s rather blunt, matter of fact conclusion is both depressing and refreshing. So it’s definitely one of the better examples of its kind, yet it certainly isn’t perfect; like all the other aforementioned flicks, the screen will become filled with everyone’s tweets and it just becomes tiresome (obviously not helping is that, unless you understand Korean, you won’t know much of what is being said; only the most important tweets are translated, which kinda kills the point of the information overload). I know it’s important, but watching people fixated on their phones can be just as annoying in a movie as it is in real life. Still, Socialphobia is definitely worth a shot, especially if you’re new to the “genre” if you can call it that. It plays on the 4th of July as well, a couple of hours before Tokyo Tribe’s first screening, at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickets here).

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So, what’s next? Why, a pair of films that each has sun in their titles…

Meeting Dr. Sun

It’s a coming of age flick. It’s a heist movie. It’s both! Meeting Dr. Sun’s central character is a Taiwanese high school student with a nickname, Lefty (Zhan Huai-yun), as well as money problems. As in, he doesn’t have any to pay the class bully his monthly “class fees”. One day Lefty discovers a statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Republic of China and a figure that both the Communists (who currently rule China) and the Nationalists (who fled to Taiwan near the end of the Chinese Civil War) revere, collecting dust in a gymnasium storage room. Lefty then concocts a plan to steal the statue, so it can be sold for scrap metal, for him and his three somewhat dimwitted pals to execute. Things are looking great until they stumble upon some other kid’s notebook, containing the same exact idea. Eventually Lefty is able to track down its owner (Wei Han-ting), who has similar reasons for stealing the statue: he too is dirt poor, so both kids engage in a dueling banjos-style stand off to see who is more destitute. In the end, it would seem as if the other kid is indeed the poorest, so instead of sleeping in the streets, Lefty invites him to crash at his group’s HQ where all their gear for the upcoming heist is stored, and even offers the chance to join his gang. Which doesn’t sit too well with the others, and their skepticism ends up being completely justified when it’s discovered that all their tools have been stolen by the other kid and his buddies. Oops.

A new plan is then conceived; once the other kids’s crew has unloaded the statue in the back of their getaway vehicle, Lefty’s posse will simply swoop in and drive off for themselves. But when they discover that this other band of robbers are unable to load the super heavy cargo onto the moving cart, Lefty and his company must lend a hand. Which they don’t realize is even happening because everyone’s wearing the same crappy anime masks (which were only chosen upon because it was the cheapest disguise possible). Yes, they also don’t realize that their numbers have doubled; these kids are that dumb, which is why the movie works so well believe it or not. Meeting Dr. Sun is oozing with commentary, as it relates to modern day Taiwanese politics; for starters, you have a statue representing the revolutionary who inspired many to leave mainland China for Taiwan and whose teaching once represented the key to China’s better tomorrow, locked away in a school closet. Not only that, but these kids are trying to sell the man (and perhaps his ideals) for a few measly dollars (granted, they really need the money); I also read somewhere that the Chinese word for scrap metal sounds a lot like the term for “abandonment of reunification” (and the goal of a unified China has long been the underpinning of most political dogma). But in lieu of bashing the viewer on the noggin with such heavy-duty topics, the film let’s the actions of dopey high schoolers do all the talking, proving that even bold faced stupidity can have nuance.

Instead of reciting eloquent soliloquies that are a bit too movie magic, Lefty and friends behave in manner that’s to be expected when one lives in a society in which you’re told at a very young age that you’re destined to be poor for the rest of your life, so deal with it. Because when the world tells you are a loser, you’re going to act like a loser, even when you’re not. And much like many John Hughes films, Meeting Dr. Sun is all about kids trying to better themselves, despite themselves, with a decent dose of Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rockets-grade antics as a cherry on top. If all that sounds good to you, Meeting Dr. Sun plays Tuesday June 30, at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickets here).

The Man Who Stole the Sun

The Man Who Stole the Sun is part of NYAFF15’s Last Men In Japanese Film, and aside from being a somewhat lesser known vehicle for Bunta Sugawara, one of the two keys focal points for the aforementioned program, it’s also a cult classic in its homeland that has the potential to become one in America, thanks to the New York Asian Film Festival’s seal of approval (not saying it’s in the same league as Hausu or Miami Connection, but it’s a piece of work nonetheless). Anyhow, the official star of the show is Kenji Sawada who plays Makoto Kido, a high school science teacher with long hair and an affinity for bubble gum, plus sleeping on the job, so his students think he’s cool. He’s also way into atomic bombs, but more on that in sec. Early into the picture, Kido accompanies a bunch of students on a field trip, which is hijacked by a crazy old guy sporting WWII era military fatigues and weaponry. He demands to see the Emperor and once outside the palace, a showdown ensues with the police, led by Sugawara as Inspector Yamashita. It’s immediately apparent that Yamashita is a total bad ass, who is able to subdue the crazy old man in a total bad ass manner. Kido is hailed a hero as well, who also makes a new friend in Yamashita. Not long after this episode, it’s back to life as normal for the too cool for school (and society as a whole) chemist, which is creating a homemade atomic bomb. The sequence in which Kido infiltrates a nuclear plant to steal the most vital ingredient, plutonium, is particularly noteworthy for being a most excellent showcase of the wild, avant garde spirit that had swept up Japanese filmmakers during the 70s (specifically the use of still frames to heighten the action, like we’re looking at panels of a live-action manga, along with the use of sound effects from Space Invaders).

With the bomb complete, Kido starts getting down to business: first he plants a dummy bomb in a government building, containing only a minuscule amount of plutonium, enough to let the authorities know that he is indeed the person behind the nuclear plant break in. Next comes the first real demand: to stop the evening news from interrupting the final innings of televised baseball games. He also insists on only speaking with Yamashita, who kinda recognizes the bomber’s voice, but can’t put his finger on it exactly (mostly due to Kido’s use of a voice modulator). Though the next demand is even more peculiar; Kido… who identifies himself as No. 9, because there are eight superpowers, nations who have access to the bomb, and he’s the ninth… calls in on a live radio show hosted by Zero Sawai (Kimiko Ikegami, best known to American audiences as Gorgeous from Hausu). He proudly announces to all that he has an a-bomb and can have anything in world, yet can’t think of anything, so he asks Zero to poll her audience and see what they’d wish for the most. Naturally, this causes a buzz among Zero’s listeners, though Kido mostly ends up caring what the DJ wants. Which is to have the Rolling Stones perform live in Japan; Zero even mentions how she had tickets from six years prior, before they were banned by the Japanese government (which is true; they were scheduled to play in 73 until officials, not happy with Keith Richards’ arrest for drug possession, cancelled their Budokan dates, as if they were going to sell drugs at their show or something). Kido then calls up Yamashita demanding there to be a Rolling Stones concert within three weeks or the bomb goes boom. And wouldn’t you know, the Stones are indeed coming back to Japan! As such, Zero starts to become infatuated with Nine and even manages to track him down, where they share a kiss. Here we witness the true heights of Kido’s narcissism, along with his genuine disdain for all human beings, as he casually throws her into the ocean after their intimate moment (though during, Zero is able to get herself a nice clump of Nine/Kido’s hair, which is falling out due to radiation).

As expected, Kido’s cockiness eventually leads to sloppiness, plus the cops manage to finally figure out a means of tracing his calls (which had been the one thing that’s tripped them up the most). Kido’s third demand, cold hard cash (to pay back the yakuza the money he borrowed, to help pay for necessary equipment earlier on) goes completely haywire, resulting in his precious bomb falling into the hands of authorities. Thus we witness Kido’s attempt at getting it back, in which he’s aided by Zero, who also broadcasts the escape live for the listening audience. With the resulting car chase echoing Blues Brothers a tad bit, as well as additional reminders of why the NYAFF decided to fashion an entire program around Bunta Sugawara. It just gets more and more ridiculous from there, like all cult classics. The Man Who Stole the Sun tries hard to cover all the bases… comedy, action, romance, political satire… and largely succeeds! It’s often difficult recommending something that’s so off the beaten path, as well as something that’s so long (at close to two hours and thirty minutes, it’s quite the commitment), but for those wanting something different finally have something different. If you feel like giving it a shot, you’ve got it thus Wednesday July 1, at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickets here).

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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).

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