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As its title suggests, “Quirky Guys and Gals” is another slice of idiosyncratic comedy from Japan, a colourful anthology piece which follows a variety of eccentric individuals about their oddball lives. The film pulls together four of the most talented directors working in the genre, Yosuke Fujita (“Fine, Totally Fine”), Tomoko Matsunashi (“Happy Darts”), Mipo Oh (“Okan No Yomeiri”) and Gen Sekiguchi (“Survive Style 5+”) as well as a series of recognisable faces, making for a fun ensemble outing. The film is available now on region 2 DVD via Third Window, coming with interviews with and special messages from the directors.
The film kicks off with “Cheer Girls” from director Yosuke Fujita (whose “Fine, Totally Fine” is still one of the finest examples of the form), which follows Chiharu (Sakuraba Nanami, also in “A Yell from Heaven” and who provided one of the voices for hit anime “Summer Wars”), a girl who leads two of her friends to try and encourage and inspire everyday people. Hanging around in a café run by YosiYosi Arakawa (“Fine, Totally Fine”), the girls offer their help to his favourite aging baseball star, and get involved with a depressed businessman who inadvertently pushed one of his juniors to suicide. Despite their best efforts, the girls seem at times to do more harm than good, and Chiharu runs into problems of her own when her would-be actor boyfriend gets angry at her success and television appearances.
Next up is “Boy? Meets Girl” from Tomoko Matsunashi, an odd tale about Konosuke, a high school boy (Aoi Nakamura, “Mitsuko Delivers”) whose attempts to catch the eye of an attractive female classmate called Kaori (Misako Renbutsu, “The Shock Labyrinth”) result in him being up persuaded by a friend to dress up as a woman. Although he comes to enjoy the fact that everyone seems to finds him beautiful, an awkward situation develops when Kaori asks him to be her photographic model.
The third segment, Mipo O’s “Claim Night” revolves around Tomochika as Mayuko, a demanding and fussy 35 year old woman who is annoyed to find the electricity in her small apartment turned off when she refuses to pay the bill. After complaining, she manages to get a customer service rep (Tenkyu Fukuda) to come over, though their forced politeness soon gives way to arguments, attraction, dinner and drinks.
Lastly, Gen Sekiguchi offers up “The House Full of Abandoned’ Businessmen” a peculiar story which follows Mayumi Okada (Kyoko Koizumi, also in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s masterful “Tokyo Sonata”), a kindly 43 year-old housewife, who after running into redundant salaryman Katsuhiko Hirata (Yoshiyuki Morishita, “Lala Pipo”) in the park takes him home and offers him sanctuary from his depressing daily skulking, allowing him to sit around the house while her husband (Tetsushi Tanaka, “When I Kill Myself”) is out at work. Seeing how happy this makes him, she starts to bring home other men in the same unfortunate situation, and gradually builds up quite a collection.
Of the four, “Cheer Girls” and “The House Full of Abandoned’ Businessmen” are probably the strongest, with their stories being the most engaging, balancing unconventional situations and gently subversive humour with quietly humanistic themes. With “Cheer Girls” Yosuke Fujita again shows a great sense of a comic timing, and his short is arguably the funniest, with some superbly deadpan gags and moments of far out creativity. While Gen Sekiguchi’s short is perhaps equally amusing, its real strength comes from its warm and sympathetic treatment of its rather wretched characters, as seen in a wonderful set piece involving the salarymen chasing a cockroach en masse, and regaining some sense of masculinity and control in the process. Through this, and the presence of actress Kyoko Koizumi, it comes across as a more upbeat companion piece to “Tokyo Sonata”, and is one of the most original approaches to dealing with the social problem of corporate downsizing seen for some time. This is not to say that either “Boy? Meets Girl” or “Claim Night” are markedly inferior, and though not quite as original, both also manage to raise more than a few smiles.
Certainly, as anthology films go, “Quirky Guys and Gals” as a whole does a far better job than most at achieving a sense of flow and coherence across its segments, each being of a high quality and bouncy pace. For fans of leftfield Japanese comedy, there’s really nothing not to love, each of the four directors managing to serve up a winning mix of surreal laughs and strange but likeable characters. With a big heart and never venturing too far into the abstract, the film is perfectly accessible to all as a celebration of the weirdness of life and the joys of being different and connecting with others.
Yosuke Fujita, Masaya Kakehi, Tomoko Matsunashi, Mipo Oh, Gen Sekiguchi (director)/(screenplay)
CAST: YosiYosi Arakawa