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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Nippon Reviews: Shazai No Osuma (The Apology King)

The Apology King (Shazai No Osuma): Written by Kankuro Kudo, directed by Nobuo Mizuta.  Starring: Sadao Abe, Mao Inoue, Masaki Okada, Yutaka Takenouchi, and Machiko Ono.  Running Time: 128 minutes. 

Rating: 3/4  

            We’ve all had those moments when we’ve had to apologize, and we’ve also all had moments where we expected an apology in turn.  Maybe we got it, maybe we didn’t.  Maybe when we said sorry, we meant it, and did whatever we needed to do to set things right.  And maybe we were lying through our teeth, counting down the minutes between breaking off the obligatory remorseful eye contact and rushing back home to catch the latest episode of CSI: Fargo Breaking Homeland.  I certainly know that I have never enjoyed apologizing, especially when I am fully aware of my guilt. 

            For douchefaces like me, thankfully, there is Yuzuru Kuroshima (Sadao Abe), a man obsessed with finding the perfect apology and sporting a haircut that would make Coconut Head weep with despair.  Burned (literally) by a careless ramen cook and unable to get the simple, straight-up apology he sought, he has devoted his life to perfecting the art of Dogeza (a very formal apology in Japan), so that he can help others fully shed themselves of whatever guilt they may be lugging around on their shoulders.  At his side is Noriko (Mao Inoue), a young law student who agrees to work for him after a particularly passionate apology of his saves her from having to work as a call girl.  Together, they seek to find the perfect apology for, in turn, a perverted and sexist underwear designer, the celebrity parents of a (seemingly) violent actor, a work-obsessed lawyer guilty over his treatment of his daughter, and literally the entire nation of Japan after a group of filmmakers and diplomats manage to offend a major trading partner on just about every conceivable level.  

            It’s a film that runs solely on its own vibrant energy, and while it doesn’t build up quite enough to fully sustain itself all the way through, Apology King is a fun, fun ride from start to finish.  The director, Nobuo Mizuta, gave a short introduction to the film at its premier, and even with the necessity of a translator, the bubbling, impish humor that clearly underlies each scene shone through in how he carried himself.  From the start, we are treated to a dressing-down of the Japanese habit of apologizing far too often; at the start, Yuzuru tells Noriko that the best way to apologize is right away, even before you know for sure if you did something wrong.  Overreacting to your mistakes is always best; when done fervently enough, the person starts to feel uncomfortable about being deferred to so much, and will forgive much easier.  And for maximum effect, be sure to perfectly time hitting the ground with your forehead if the full Dogeza- a formal, hands-and-face-on-the-ground apology bow- is needed.  We are, however, also reminded in a few thoughtful scenes that, even when they’re overdone, truly sincere apologies can go a long way towards making people’s lives a little bit happier. 

            Apologies are not the only comedic source utilized though- sexism, obsession with work, the movie business (ironically), government officials, celebrity gossip culture, and even some subtle differences between Japanese and Western culture are all brought in to be smacked around one way or another.  The linchpin pulling all these disparate elements together is Yuzuru, whose boyish exuberance makes a functioning character out of what, in a great many hands, could easily be a disaster of a lead.  He’s excellently foiled by everyone around him, essentially all of whom are made the straight man in his presence by default. 

            The absurdity of each circumstance he and his “patients” find themselves in builds itself up into an extended climactic gag that will either make or break the film for many viewers.  Having thought about it for several days, I’m still not entirely sure if I thought the joke was genuinely funny, but darn if they don’t hammer it in deep, and I can’t help but admire the commitment that takes.  It follows one of the more debatable traditions of comedy, namely that anything can become funny if you do it long and determinedly enough. 

            It won’t make you cry, and it won’t make your heart throb.  I never fell in love with the characters like I did with last year’s Key of Life.  But it will make you laugh, a lot, and that’s more than enough. 

Next film: Like Father, Like Son

-Noah Franc 

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