Friday, April 25, 2008

REVIEW: Kenchô no Hoshi (Star Reformer) - Hiroshi Nishitani (2006)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

A tried and true upper crust learning from the little guy formula with a dollop of odd couple clichés and just a sprinkling of boy meets girl on top; that’s what you get when you pop in the DVD of Hiroshi Nishitani’s 2006 comedy/ drama “Kenchô no Hoshi (Star Reformer)”. Technically that’s all I have to say about this film, but you want details, don’t you. Oh, okay…

Nomura, played by Yuji Oda (Bayside Shakedown, Tsubaki Sanjûrô) is a young and ambitious member of the prefectural government (although they never mentioned in the subtitling which prefecture) who’s trying to get a sprawling state of the art seniors residence built with government money. This of course doesn’t sit well with the local citizen’s group who wonder why ¥20 billion’s worth of public money has to go into this project. These politicians are out of touch with what’s going on with the average Japanese, they say. Well, after x-amount of cinematically fascinating board meetings the politicians come up with the brilliant plan to enlist seven of the brightest stars in the prefectural government (See? Stars… “Star Reformer”? Get it?) into a work exchange program that will have them learning “everyday know-how” from people working in small business. And guess who’s one of these brightest stars?

Ultra-serious, 100% by the book Nomura lands at a run down supermarket, apparently one in a chain of six across the prefecture, to learn its inner workings, but instead the weasely manager foists him onto a pretty, but seasoned supermarket veteran part-timer, Ninomiya played by Kou Shibasaki (Tokyo Trash Baby, One Missed Call). She’s seen managers come and go and has more practical retail “everyday know-how” than any professionally trained manager which has gained her the nickname “Manager in the Shadows” (Oooo! Scary!!!) So when Mr. 100% by the book is dropped in the deathly quiet bed linens department by The Manager in the Shadows what do you think happens? He doesn’t like it, does he? How’d you guess?

Nomura manages to get kicked out of bed linens and then working cash for having zero% retail personality (or any personality for that matter) which leaves the store managers and Ninomiya no choice but to put him behind the scenes in the store kitchen. (Like a lot of department stores in Japan this one produces their own take-out bento lunches.) Big mistake! Nomura witnesses old, expired grocery stock being prettied up into cheap bento lunches! The humanity! This get’s him spearheading a project to make high quality, healthy bentos, a plan that has him going toe to toe with Ninomiya. What could happen when a man and a woman who are polar opposites starting fighting it out in the workplace? Can you guess? Love interest, did you say? Sexual tension? Wow! You could write these things! Thankfully as the supermarket goes up against the local health inspectors Nishitani goes light on the romance.

And “Star Reformer” goes on and on… and on. For a light comic drama the running time is insane, over 2 hours! The whole film plays out like a bad TV series. Add to that that Oda as Nomura is boring, boring, boring… as are the rest of the supermarket staff who could have used a few more quirks or eccentricities instead of racial stereotypes to help us tell them apart. The only bright spot in the film is Kou Shibasaki who isn’t Ms. Excitement as Ninomiya, but she brings a bit of humanity to the role.

In the end I have to admit that I was going to review the first Zatoichi film instead of “Kenchô no Hoshi (Star Reformer)”, but I obviously didn’t. I have no reasonable excuse as to my final decision. All I can say is check back next week for a review of that much, much better film.

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