Been getting rather difficult for me to write any film reviews lately, but here you go:
Funuke, Show Some Love You Losers! is a film I knew nothing about when I started watching it, and I finished it feeling rather rewarded.
It's a film about a dysfunctional family, it's driven completely by the four primary characters and the relationship and interaction between them. The opening scene sets the tone for things to come, we see a gruesome traffic accident caused by a cat that's sickeningly funny.
Happening entirely in a small Japanese village, the untimely death of an elderly couple due to the aforementioned traffic accident brings Sumika, an aspiring actress home for the funeral. And she reunits with her family: The woodcutter elder half-brother Shinji, his cheerful new bride Machiko from an arranged marriage, and there's the youngest teenage sister Kiyomi, a quiet, nerdy and asthmatic girl.
Machiko, a constantly cheerful and sweet woman, finds herself often bearing the brunt of her husband's anger and physical abuse, which is both cartoonish and disturbing at the same time. (in her first scene, which is right after the funeral, we see her furious husband shoving her aside (for her latest 'indescretion')... and her slamming right onto the sliding wooden door. Ouch. She's like a Setsuka Hara character from an Ozu film (more specifically, Noriko in TOKYO STORY), but in a way too messed up situation.
Sumika is absolutely EVIL. A failed actress who has a bone to pick with her younger sister due to, ah, a 'manga-related' incident years earlier before her departure to Tokyo. We see her constantly trying to exact her 'revenge' upon the younger sister with all kinds of malicious pranks, which the latter suffers quietly in silence due to her own guilt. Yet she is not entirely a caricature, as we get to know more of her inner thoughts through a series of letters she writes to a film director in the middle of the film (the voiceover monologue will serve as bridges for the film's narration, and also providing information of other characters' backstories, a good way of storytelling without resorting to pace-killing exposition)
The youngest sister Kiyomi is often cycling away for an unnamed part-time job, and has a talent for drawing manga. She is also like an observer, throughout the film, the audiences will discover many twists and secrets of the family through Kiyomi. And some scenes of Kiyomi spying on her family members are staged so well that I wish I've watched this film before I did my CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY.
The eldest half-brother Shinji (in Sebastian's review, he mentioned him as a stepbrother) seems like an asshole at first for abusing his wife, but is wildly protective towards his sisters, and gradually, we see that he's actually more fragile than we thought, silently falling apart as he has caught between the sibling battle between his two sisters. No character is 1-dimensional, as his actual frustration is fleshed out, his behaviour may not have been justified, but at least it makes his actions almost understandable.
This film is helped by its strong performances. The smoldering hot Eriko Sato (whom I mistakenly thought was Otsuka Ai first, but then wondered how did she looked so, ahem, womanly suddenly) was great as the bitchy Sumika.
Am I the only one who feel that they look quite alike? Except, um, Sato's bustier.
Masatoshi Nagase is pretty good as the brooding Shinji too. Aimi Satsukawa's role as Kiyomi is challenging, but she pulled it off by showing how multi-faceted her character is despite barely speaking most of the time (check out Aimi's blog). And of course, there's Nagasaku Hiromi's multiple awards-winning performance as the saintly Michiro. I noticed some resemblance to Miyazaki Aoi, until I realized that she actually played the older version of Miyazaki Aoi in SUKIDA, a film I initially dissed two years ago, but in retrospect, wasn't very fair with (it just isn't an appropriate film to watch during a birthday party :D).
The film is peppered by numerous unexpectedly stylish and 'hip' visual devices that one would expect to see in a different film. Very innovative, not for what was used, but how it was used, like seeing a photograph in a newspaper interview Sumika's reading come to life so that audiences get to 'watch' an interview scene, instead of 'reading' it themselves. Or how towards the end, a series of scenes split up to become part of a manga page, brings back memories of madcap animated series like FLCL and KareKano.
I particularly liked the quiet ending, which is slightly ambiguous, but hints a possible reconciliation. Not really a mainstream film, but not too arty either, but it's definitely worth a watch, but it may not be everyone's cup of tea.
Director Daihachi Yoshida knows his mise-en-scene well and is able to keep things under control despite this being his debut feature. Hard to find any information of him online, but I'm definitely looking forward to his future works.
AFI Fest's Interview with Daihachi Yoshida