Friday, April 18, 2008

REVIEW: Meet The Fuccons - Yoshimasa Ishibashi (2006)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

Japanese TV has quite the reputation for weirdness. Takeshi Kitano’s “Takeshi’s Castle” has been dubbed, syndicated, and re-titled “MXC” and a lot of you have seen how weird that that can be. I’m tied for my own personal favorite of Japanese TV weirdness. One was a reality TV show where x-amount of young women were put up in a house where they had to collect and measure the amount of tears they shed, and obviously the winner would be the woman who cried the most. The other was one of the trillion and one cooking programs, but this one featured a chef making a scallop and watermelon donburi… with a dirt sauce! These moments can stand toe to toe with another strange TV series from the land of the rising sun that’s been made available on DVD here in North America: The Fuccons.

In some ways the fact that episodes of “The Fuccons” (or as the series is known in Japan , “Oh Mikey!”) can now be seen here is quite appropriate. You see, The Fuccons, father James, mother Barbara, and their son Mikey are Americans who have come to Japan to live like Japanese. Sometimes they might come close to succeeding, but most often they don’t as we watch them perpetually smiling through the 78 episodes that make up the series. And when I say perpetually smiling I mean perpetually smiling. The Fuccons are played by department store mannequins after all. Yes, you heard me right… mannequins; but don’t expect any stop motion animation here. Writer/ director Yoshimasa Ishibashi lets his cast do what comes naturally, ie: stay stock still while the camera and the editing tell the story, and what stories they are!

ADV Films have made four DVDs of “The Fuccons” available here (this review covers only the sampler DVD “Meet The Fuccons, Vol. 0”) and the on average 2.5 minute episodes cover everything from The Fuccons arriving in their adopted country, visits from their bratty niece Laura, discovering their house is haunted (maybe), Barbara sending Mikey to the store to buy groceries and supplies, to a visit by the whole family to James’ senile parents. On one hand the episodes are classic Americana , bringing to mind “Fun with Dick and Jane” or “Leave It to Beaver”. On the other hand… they’re mannequins and the sight gags that Ishibashi creates using his wooden cast are to me what makes the series so hilarious.

Similar to the situation where “The Simpsons” started as a segment on the now defunct “Tracey Ullman Show” and then went on to bigger and better things on their own “The Fuccons” started out as part of an equally bent series entitled “Vermillion Pleasure Night” which along with episodes of “Oh Mikey!” featured an intergalactic apartment complex, a musical and violent parody of cooking shows, and similar to “The Fuccons” the story of four dolls living in a doll house. After audiences got hooked on America ’s number one mannequin family there The Fuccons branched off to their own Saturday night comedy show. In fact the show became so popular that a Fuccon themed family restaurant chain was opened in Japan (no word as to whether they’re still operating though).

It’s a true marriage of low brow meeting high art. Ishibashi, the creator of “The Fuccons” got his start as a conceptual and video artist who graduated from both the Royal College of Art in the United Kingdom and the Kyoto City University of Arts. He was a founding member of the conceptual art troupe Kyupi Kyupi who put on performances influenced by Disney, Monty Python, cabaret and traditional Japanese theatre. His film "Kuruwasetaino (I Want to Drive You Insane)" won the 1999 Japan New Film Director's Award. With this background one could argue that The Fuccons are a commentary on the artificiality of American entertainment, but instead of analyzing The Fuccons I’d rather just laugh with them.

No comments: