Friday, December 19, 2008

REVIEW: Fantastipo

ファンタスティポ (Fantastipo)

Released: 2005

Shogo Yabuuchi

Tsuyoshi Dômoto
Taichi Kokubun
Medaka Ikeno
Nanako Ôkôchi
Kimika Yoshino

Running time: 109 min.

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

When you think of mindless Japanese boy bands you have to think of Johnny's Jimusho, or Johnny & Associates Inc in English. Since 1963 Johnny Kitagawa and his talent agency have produced chart-topping boy band after chart-topping boy band, from SMAP to Arashi to NEWS and beyond. Kitagawa is like Maurice Starr, Joe Simpson and Lou Perlman all rolled into one, and like the latter he's been accused of financially exploiting and sexually harassing his male talent, but that's beside the point. While it's easy to argue the musical relevance of these acts no one can argue against Johnny's when it comes to cold hard cash. The company regularly nets ¥3 billion ($41 million CAD) a year in through CD and concert ticket sales, merchandising, cross-merchandising and publishing rights, so like any good money-making behemoth Johnny's thought, "Why not diversify?" so the company started producing films in 2002 under its subsidiary company J-Storm. What better way to segue the careers of its pop idols into feature film actors? And that's exactly what J-Storm attempted to do when it tagged first time director Shogo Yabuuchi to create a motion picture vehicle for two of its biggest stars, Tsuyoshi Dômoto of the KinKi Kids and Taichi Kokubun of TOKIO. Too bad the end result, the comedy "Fantastipo," was just as frivolous, flashy and empty as the music that the two bands produce.

Haiji (Dômoto) and Toraji (Kokubun) are the heirs to the vast Armadillo Corporation fortune. The company, founded by their "Papa" Kintaro Koinobori has become the top producer of bottled mineral water in Japan, but the years of struggle, the loss of his wife and the offer of a lot more money to write his autobiography has Koinobori thinking that it's time to slow down a bit and let his sons take the reins of the family business, so he appoints Toraji as President and Haiji as VP. Hell, it's not like they're doing a hell of a lot anyway. Toraji, the much more cheerful and outgoing of the two brothers, spends most of his time arranging large groupings of plastic elephants, rhinos and giraffes on a miniature landscape and playing with his elaborate toy train set. Meanwhile Haiji mopes around a lot sporting a really patchy beard and has recurrent dreams that he's falling to his death. Oh, and the two of them take turns feeding and playing with their father's pet... Ape? Missing link? Poster child for in-breeding?... named Tom who spends his time chained up in the basement of their mansion. Now with the responsibility of a multi-million dollar corporation resting on their man/ child shoulders the two do their best to step up and take Armadillo into the 21st-century; but will Haiji's feelings for their new assistant and PR Manager Makushko (Nanako Ôkôchi) not only derail Armadilo's future, but the bond between these two brothers as well?

Oh, and did I mention tht the film starts out with the two brothers writing a song/ jingle called "Fantastipo" about their journey together, a song that never actually plays any part in the narrative of the film and that we're only treated to during the end credits? There's a lot of stuff like this in "Fantastipo" that just don't add up, like Toraji being crippled and confined to a wheelchair after a being mauled by Tom only to stand up the next minute like nothing happened and the father's autobiography that's never written and the fact that Haiji falls in love with Makushko even though Toraji's plastic toy animals have more personality. And all of these quirks and pieces of storyline never actually congeal into any discernable plot. The whole thing kind of reminded me of a really bad film by Katsuhito Ishii or Kankuro Kudo: Eccentric characters doing eccentric things in eccentric looking costumes and sets that in terms of being funny are mostly hit and miss, but in the case of "Fantastipo" are mostly miss. Okay, there are some funny moments like Toraji directing a mineral water commercial featuring Bigfoot and visually inspired set pieces like the club that the brothers frequent called "Mommy Farm" where they receive hugs from sturdy-looking women in nightgowns, but these are too few and too far between.

If you're a fan of "Funky Forest: The First Contact" or "Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Children" and you don't mind some truly clunky writing and plot pacing with your weirdness then by all means check out "Fantastipo", but if you, like me, can smell a Johnny's Jimusho cross-promotion campaign for a single sung by members of KinKi Kids and TOKIO then stay far, far away.

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