came nearly six years after the original Freaky
Friday, but the body-switch comedy was far from the acknowledged comedy
sub-genre it is today. In fact, Nobuhiko Obayashi got into the game early on
and he delivered exactly what people wondered about—the experience of suddenly
having different private bits. Teenagers Kazuo and Kazumi Saito (no relation)
are about to experience the switcheroo and quite a difficult transition it will
be for them in I Are You, You Am Me (a.k.a.
Exchange Student), which screens
during the Japan Society’s Obayashi retrospective.
picturesque home town, Onomichi was probably a pleasant place to grow up,
because he has frequently returned to shoot films there. Kazumi Saito spent her
early girlhood years there and has recently moved back with her family. On her
first day of at her new high school, she is delighted to recognize her old
playmate Kazuo Saito. However, she inadvertently embarrasses the teen meathead.
That will lead to serious bad karma for her when a freak accident somehow
causes a body swap. The not particularly introspective Kazuo will make the best
of things in her body, but she has a much harder time adjusting to a boy’s
life. At least Kazuo’s grades will improve.
is strange I You, You Me has not been
more aggressively marketed as a vintage rediscovery, because it would have been
perfect for the body-switch craze of the late 1980s, but also speaks to more
contemporary issues of gender identity and sexual orientation. Not
surprisingly, during the switch-off, Kazuo is frequently taunted for his
supposed homosexual mannerisms, while Kazumi’s mother is frustrated with her sudden
Kobayashi is pretty incredible playing both Kazumi as Kazumi and Kazumi while
Kazuo is stuck inside her body. She nails the body language of a goony-ish teen
boy and just generally radiates energy. It is easy to see why she won best
newcomer at the Yokohama Film Festival. On the other side of the coin,
Toshinori Omi deserves credit for projecting what must have been a socially
risky persona for 1982 Japan (but presumably less so for his successor when
Obayashi remade it in 2007). Together, they play off each other in the various
personas with real gusto. They largely carry the film, sharing both co-lead
parts, but Masae Hayachi is also rather charming as Kazumi’s science fiction
reading friend Akemi Yoshino, an all too brief supporting role.
Onomichi looks like the definitive coastal
Japanese town, which it sort of is. After all, parts of Ozu’s Tokyo Story and Oshima’s Boy were filmed there. Yet, it still
brings back nostalgia for the teen American 1980s, when the best way for
parents to understand their kids (and vice versa, so to speak) was to spend
time in their respective bodies—even though Obayashi takes it deeper and
franker than Hollywood ever did. Recommended as another strangely distinctive
coming of age tale from the under-heralded master, I Are You, You Am Me screens this Saturday (11/21) as part of the
Obayashi retrospective at the Japan Society in New York.
Labels: Body-switch movies, Japan Society, Japanese Cinema, Nobuhiko Obayashi