Friday, March 26, 2010
REVIEW: Tokyo OnlyPic
東京 ONLYPIC (Tokyo OnlyPic)
Running time: 137 min.
Reviewed by Eric Evans
Tonally closer to "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" than any other Japanese omnibus project of recent memory, "Tokyo Onlypic" is a collection of shorts and skits spoofing the Olympics as we know them, while suggesting alternative-and more entertaining-competitions. As with any anthology the quality is uneven, but the highs here more than compensate for the occasionally sluggish pace and repetitive nature of the lows. I was fortunate enough to see this with an audience of about 200 people, and none of us knew what we were in for; "Tokyo Onlypic" was one of the wild cards in the Fantastic Fest line-up and it went over like gangbusters, from the howling laughter during the screening to the re-enacted 'Samurai Call' competition on 'Meet the Japanese' night. 'Samurai Call' is a sort of performance art wherein contestants scream "SAMURAAAAIIIIIIIII!" with gusto and accompanying flailing movements, to be judged by a panel as if they were figure skaters. That should give you a feel for the movie as a whole.
The shorts are interstitially bound together by repeat visits to the broadcast booth and our hosts, led by Japan's favorite otaku-ette, Shoko Nakagawa. Her faux enthusiasm for event after event is increasingly funny as the film progresses, really selling the sometimes--hell, always--ridiculous nature of the games. The events themselves are also called by voiceover commentators in complete deadpan and scripted as if they were staples of the Olympic Games;
Tongues are planted so firmly in cheek that, during the live-action segments, you could pass off the work as legit sport to the uninitiated. Each director uses whatever storytelling technique they prefer, from the animated caricatures of Bill Plympton (don't ask me how he got involved) in '1,000 Character SMS' to the low-tech combination of live action and remedial CG in 'Mother Tossing.' There's a wild range of work on display and segues from style to style are often abrupt, but the spirit of the thing eliminates any concerns the filmmakers might have had about low budgets or lower brows. After seeing a live-action man greet his mother, then pick her up and carry her to a javelin-like field of measure, the suspension of disbelief necessary to get past the suddenly-CG sight of him grasping her by the ankles, spinning her over his head three times and hurling her 70+ feet away as he screams "Mama!" is easy to muster.
"Tokyo Onlypic" gleefully skewers all nationalities, but saves special venom for Japan and the United States. In the film's bombastic and hysterically funny CG opening ceremony sequence, host city Tokyo pulls out all the self-parodying stops by unleashing gigantic robots representing pop-culture touchstones: A massive robo-gyaru whose booming voice repeats "KAWAII!" ad nauseum; An equally large Hachiko statue that zooms around banging into things like a Roomba; Parade-float sized sushi on wheels that zip around the stadium chased by the Onlypic mascot, a huge animatronic cross-eyed pigeon. (I would have described the spectacle as absurd satire, but the giant maple leaves of the recent Vancouver Olympic closing ceremonies recalled the Onlypic goofiness so closely that such observations were rendered moot.) Even seemingly pedestrian segments are fantastical; 'Sandal Tossing' features people on a playground swing who, at the apex of their swing height, kick off their shoe to see who can achieve the greatest distance. Nothing special until one contestant kicks off a sandal with such force that it circumnavigates the globe, appearing behind the kicker a few minutes after it is flipped into the horizon, Warner Brothers cartoon-style. Often the contestants have names which pun or recall something about their nationality. For example, the American sandal kicker is named Michael Starbucks, Jr., whose poor showing is revealed (in slow motion, no less) to be the result of his mid-swing craving for a Snickers bar, distracting him from the task at hand. Leave it to the American to be caught eating chocolate during competition, then throwing a hissyfit at his poor result!
"Tokyo Onlypic" is essentially unreviewable--you'll either be in the mood for a two-hour-plus spoof of the Olympics or you won't; The fewer specifics you have going in, the better off you might be. The omnibus film hasn't received a region 1 DVD release, but there is a website with a multitude of clips (http://www.onlypic.org/sports/) and YouTube is littered with sometimes lengthy excerpts, including all of the opening ceremony and enough of the 'Samurai Call' to give you an idea of the proceedings (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNqr6Oxz0NM). There's a Japanese 4-DVD "Tokyo Onlypic" boxset including the theatrical release and many additional events priced at a shockingly reasonable US$40, but that might be too much of a good thing…