After skimming the synopses of a couple of the movies that were screening at this years’ Japanese Film Festival, I went with my gut and picked one that seemed to resonate well with me. The story of a amnesiac who picks up the pieces of his past through a journey buoyed only by his love of singing-it had me caught hook, line and sinker. But set in an ageless small town in Osaka, the movie turned every single expectation I had on its head. Starring Subaru Shibutani as the amnesiac Shigeo and Fumi Nikaido as Kasumi, the young manager of comedy band Akainu, the charm of La La La At Rock Bottom lies in the clean simplicity of its small-town settings which jarr amusingly with the quirky vintage look of its musical acts and venues, which seem to have been transported straight from the 70s with their matching bell bottoms, back up singers and all that jazz.
But really getting down to business, Shibutani’s acting was no real asset to the film at all. I forgave his wooden stance and glassy stares all through the first half when he had supposedly lost his memory, but after seeing him continue in this vein for the entire two hours of the movie with little semblance of expression on his face, it seemed to just be bad acting more than anything else. Throughout the movie, his character Pooch had few lines, leaving it very much up to his body language to move the movie and his character’s identity forward. However, his changes in personality in between his bouts of amnesia just didn’t seem to match up, relying almost solely on his actions to tell the audience what was going on. Going from a quiet, sensible identity to a silent, childlike state before abruptly changing gears into a violent, brooding gangster completely didn’t make sense at all. Even as he protested to his sister that he had ‘changed’ after regaining his memory his soulless and coarse expression wasn’t enough to fool his onscreen sister, let alone the audience. As a main character he was distant and unrelatable, which is never a good thing in my books.
Nikaido did a better job as young band manager and karaoke studio operator-her sullen yet youthful face and schoolgirl attire were an interesting clash with her big boss persona, something which kept audiences interested. One of the characters Makiko described Kasumi as ‘still stuck in time’, something I felt her character portrayed really well. Her telltale schoolgirl actions, such as how she punches Shigeo and writes a diary full of pictures to help him remember his life when juxtaposed against her no-nonsense attitude belay a clash of her two identities that she has yet to come to terms with since (spoiler alert!) her father’s death. A character with much more depth than Shigeo’s; just a pity over the lack of chemistry between the two actors. In my opinion, the story should have focused more on digging deeper into her past than Shigeo’s as his pretty much came to a dead end in the film either way.
The plotline although interesting became too fragmented by the end, leaving many unanswered questions. The director managed to leave Kasumi’s lying to Shigeo about finding out about his past unexplained while his character inexplicably decided to take a self-destructive turn for the worst, before being somehow saved by Kasumi without indicating how she would have known where he was at that exact moment in time. After somehow saving him from a gangster mob of baddies who for some reason hadn’t beat him or her to death, Shigeo spontaneously rejoins the group as their lead vocalist before the movie abruptly comes to an end.
I left La La La At Rock Bottom with more questions than I did coming in, but there were certainly some interesting characters to look out for, as well as the stunningly crisp imagery of Osaka and its people that reveals a completely different side to Japanese culture altogether. An interesting concept with lacklustre execution.
Review score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Catch the Japanese Film Festival in Adelaide October 30 – November 8, Sydney November 5 – 15 and Melbourne November 26 – December 6.
Visit Japanese Film Festival for more information and session times.