憎いあンちくしょう (Nikui an-chikushô)
Running time: 106 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
Who knew Koreyoshi Kurahara could make a rom-com? Well, OK, not your typical Hollywood romantic comedy, but a quick look at its plot and structure could easily lead you to believe the resulting film was being targeted at a multiplex crowd. That is, if you also assumed that mainstream fare had a crashing jazz score, in your face handheld cameras and a dynamic editing style that you could never really anticipate. And that it was acceptable to mostly abandon its initial rom-com feel half way through so it could turn into a road movie, bring in melodrama and tackle the subject of media manipulation while examining the idea of true love. Not your average date movie to be sure.
Kurahara's only colour feature included in Criterion's Eclipse Series box set ("The Warped World Of Koreyoshi Kurahara") is a great deal of fun for that first half as we get to know famous DJ and television host Daisaku and his manager Noriko (played by two of Japan's biggest stars at the time - Yujiro Ishihara and the gorgeous Ruriko Asaoko). She's scheduled just about every move of his life for the last two years and, even though they are attracted to each other, has laid down the rule that they will not have intimate physical contact in order to focus all their energies on his career. For Daisaku, this is beginning to be a distraction all of its own as he is getting burned out by the jam-packed itinerary of daily meetings and events while also wrestling with how women fit into his life. He's not in a very happy place and hates the thought of yet another late night of making club appearances when he'd rather just sleep. Noriko keeps him on schedule, though, as she is efficient, very confident and approaches challenges in a positive way. She even keeps track of their "relationship" via a whiteboard - incrementing each day how long it has lasted in different coloured markers. At the 730th day, she outlines the number in a heart to mark the two year anniversary and it's characteristics like this that make her pretty lovable during this first section. Daisaku's sad sack demeanor wears thin, but she delights in things like waking him in the morning and tricking him into a cold shower. Doris Day and Rock Hudson would slot quite nicely into this framework.
That style and pace stays clicking along and rarely lags on either the story or visual fronts. If it isn't laugh out loud funny, it's enjoyably silly and with Kurahara's shot selections and strong use of colour (focusing on the pop of different hues from objects like car seats, blouses and markers), it easily keeps you engaged. At the halfway mark, Daisaku ignores all advice and decides to help a young woman by driving a jeep to the remote area of Kyushu (900 miles away) so that the doctors can make use of it to help the injured and sick. The main doctor in Kyushu and the woman have fallen in love via their correspondence and Daisaku is fascinated by this version of "true love". The road movie idea can fit nicely into the broader realm of the light romantic comedy, but this is where Kurahara veers off route. As Daisaku's determination to finish the task of delivering the jeep on his own becomes stronger, so does Noriko's need to gain control of him and his career. As she chases after him in his Jaguar, it becomes less of a fun-filled excuse to bring the lovers together as it does a heightened melodrama used to explore aspects of how the media exploits the masses and how the concept of "love" is misunderstood.
It handles both of these in reasonably interesting ways, but it becomes difficult to stay as engaged with the characters during most of this journey. Noriko's frantic need to gain the upper hand on Daisaku and make sure that his career (and her well-being) does not suffer begins to wear down the good will she built up with the viewer initially. When she can't physically stop him, she starts to turn his trip into a media circus as if he had planned it that way. When that too fails to dissuade him, she starts to break down emotionally. Daisaku doesn't gain many points either - his single-minded focus on the trip is incredibly selfish as he ignores the impact it has on the many people who depend on him and isn't even doing it for those who will benefit. All he wants to get out of this is a deeper understanding of "humanism". Some of that is achieved by the end (with both couples coming to interesting conclusions about their relationships), but doesn't add much as it goes along. Were it not for the barbed attacks on Daisaku's media image, the effect the reporters and fans have in slowing down his progress (every day the jeep is not available in Kyushu means more people may die) and some very lovely scenery as they wind through a big chunk of Japan, the long journey would become somewhat tiresome. By its end, Kurahara has smashed some oddly disparate genres into an overall entertaining and even illuminating work. Though he loses some of the charm of the characters along the way, it's an interesting and well-crafted enterprise.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.