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November 27, 2008

The Minoru Kawasaki Collection

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Executive Koala/Koara Kacho
Minoru Kawasaki - 2005

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The Rug Cop/Zura Deka
Minoru Kawasaki - 2006

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The World Sinks Except Japan/Nihon igai zenbu Chinbotsu
Minoru Kawasaki - 2006
all Synapse Films Region 1 DVD

Minoru Kawasaki has such an idiosyncratic view of the world that it's something of a surprise that he has a successful career in Japan. Then again, it could be because he is able to create an outlet with his films, and humorously attack Japanese culture and tradition that Kawasaki speaks on behalf of an audience that might otherwise be more introspective. In an interview, Kawasaki talks about being silly. Even if the intention is for the films to be enjoyed simply for the surface fantasies, the satire about contemporary Japan is also quite clear.

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The basic concept of Executive Koala doesn't quite support a feature length film. What Kawasaki does, with his suit-wearing, six foot tall koala bear, is make a film about how people treat someone who is "the other". In this case, it is Tamura, a pickle factory executive, who is alternately respected, feared, or disdained. Tamura's boss is a human sized white rabbit, while another ally is the frog that works at the convenience store. By having an anthropomorphic character, Kawasaki is able to gently poke fun at Japanese attitudes.

Kawasaki's main story is a variation of that in Spellbound, with the koala a possible killer plagued by nightmares of murder, and memories that may not be real. Along the way, Kawasaki also plays with conventions of horror and martial arts movies. If Kawasaki can be compared to anyone, he comes closest to the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team in concocting a film that is essentially a series of parodies of other films. Even if some of the specifics get lost unless one is well versed in Japanese films from the Sixties and Seventies, with Ultraman frequently cited by Kawasaki, the jokes and action keep moving, with some excellent translations to convey the verbal humor as well. In addition to the sight gags, Kawasaki has no fear of the pun that will make an audience laugh and groan at the same time.

The Rug Cop has one of the loopiest beginnings ever with a bank held up by an unlikely robber. Without giving this hilarious opening scene away, the rest of the film is about a police detective whose weapon is his toupee. Some may be reminded of Oddjob with his killer derby in Goldfinger. The rug cop joins a band of outsiders, other detectives who make the most out of their physical differences, their nicknames saying it all: Shorty, Fatty, Old Guy, and Big Dick. The last named, not to be confused with The Bank Dick uses his, er, light saber, as a weapon (at least it looks like a light saber).

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Along the way, a gang of thieves steals a nuclear bomb and threatens to blast Tokyo unless they get the ransom. The motley crew of police compete against a group of younger government agents to crack the case and save their city. Nothing is too urgent that there isn't time for a flashback to explain how the cop discovered the power of a well thrown toupee, or how a clueless, low ranking yakuza discovers that the bar girl of his dreams was friendly as part of her job. The cheerful silliness is maintained for the length of the film, Kawasaki understanding the motto that brevity is the soul of wit. One may debate just how much wit there is in The Rug Doctor, but even the dumb jokes are funny.

A sequel is highly unlikely for The World Sinks except Japan. The film, taken from the stories by Yasutaka Tsuitsui was released in Japan following the success of the 2006 version of Japan Sinks. Kawasaki's film can be enjoyed without seeing either version of Japan Sinks. I did see Roger Corman's cut of the first Japan Sinks retitled Tidal Wave, with Lorne Greene edited into the action, just like Raymond Burr was inserted into Godzilla, and found a few chuckles in the Toho disaster movie. Kawasaki pays tribute to Toho with the deliberately obvious special effects of world destruction and buildings blowing up into smithereens. A Godzilla, or should I say Gojira, type monster makes an appearance as well.

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The satire comes to the forefront as criticism of Japanese attitudes towards the non-Japanese. There is also a moment, not fully explored though, where one of the characters mentions Japan's dependency on the United States for food, primarily soybeans. The title reveals the essential plot which investigates primarily how Japan reacts when it becomes the only safe haven for millions of refugees. As in becomes more clear that Japan is the only country that has not been submerged, the relationships between Japanese and non-Japanese become more strained. Some of the humor is a bit strained as well, such as the inclusion of refugees that look kind of like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and one that vaguely resembles Bruce Willis. More successful is the film clip from the monster movie, a genre popular due to the crushing of foreigners by giant feet.

Hopefully Kawasaki's other films will find their way to the U.S. Who wouldn't want to see a movie titled Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G-8 Summit? Here's a trailer from that film, as well as the trailer from the source of inspiration.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 27, 2008 12:29 AM