By Jason S. Yadao
It’s been a hectic week for me. I know, it’s a refrain I’ve been singing over and over again as of late, but the week between compiling and posting the “Octoberfeast” calendar and this post has been spent dealing with regular work … and working on reviews for several films screening at the Hawaii International Film Festival over the next few days. Sabi Sabi: Quirky Guys & Gals, A Letter to Momo, Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, Legend of the Millennium Dragon … I have screeners in my hands, and I’ve been watching and working on reviews for them in as many non-regular-work hours as I can spare.
So I was just going to post, “Sorry, no Cel Shaded report this week, but please look at our continuing coverage of HIFF on Pulse!” and be done with it. That’s where all our reviews are going this year, after all. But then a few wires got crossed and Jason Genegabus posted his own nice review of Sabi Sabi … which, as you may recall from the previous paragraph, I’ve been looking at as well.
And so, the wayward duplicate review has landed here. You may want to read it quickly, though … the movie screens tonight. After that … well, one would hope someone licenses it for release in the U.S., but somehow I doubt it’s going to happen for this one.
‘Sabi Sabi: Quirky Guys & Gals’
Spotlight on Japan
Screens at 9:15 p.m. today
Two and a half stars
Moviegoers who like their cinematic experiences served up in bite-sized pieces will love “Sabi Sabi: Quirky Guys & Gals,” with its four standalone tales by four different directors crammed into a neat 90-minute package and bookended by animated credit sequences. As can be expected with this approach, though, the resulting product turns out somewhat uneven.
Most of the directors involved in “Sabi Sabi” seem to interpret the concept of “quirky” as “let’s take some overtly off-kilter people and throw them into wacky scenarios.” In “Cheer Girls,” directed by Yosuke Fujita, it’s a group of three college-age women who go around town in cheerleading outfits, performing ludicrously choreographed cheers to encourage people to do everything from tying a shoelace to opening a tightly sealed jar. “Boy? Meets Girl,” directed by Tomoko Matsunashi, takes socially awkward high school student Konosuke, transforms him from pretty boy to even prettier girl (with the help of a wig, some makeup and his goofy chubby friend, Kato), and tosses him into his dream scenario of being a model for cute classmate Kaori. And in Gen Sekiguchi’s “The House Full of ‘Abandoned’ Businessmen,” housewife Mrs. Okada goes around collecting unemployed, wandering businessmen and gives them a place of refuge during the day, much as one would go about picking up stray cats off the street.
While the stories may be different, these three short films play out in much the same way: The odd characters are introduced, the audience is flogged over the head with several “Hey! This is FUNNY! YOU WILL LAUGH NOW!” situations, there’s a pause for some form of existential crisis at the climax, the story ends on a high note filled with smiles, and the credits roll. It’s a simple formula, but it’s certainly effective for people who enjoy such films.
And then there’s the curious case of the other film, “Claim Night,” about a woman who calls to complain about the power being turned off at her home and the overly apologetic representative who shows up when she demands that someone be held accountable. There aren’t any real laughs until a few minutes before the end of the film, with the real twist coming during the end credits. Director Mipo O’s approach can be frustrating for people who prefer the more obvious laughs of the other films, but satisfying for those who can stick it out until the end. (It is quite a test of patience, though.)
Frequent typographical and grammatical errors littering the subtitles were also a distraction. Perhaps it’s my regular job as a copy editor that made me notice these more often than the average person might, but when sentences like “Huge complains were mounted it” pop up, they’re hard to ignore.