Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Japan Cuts ’16: Emi-Abi
their Manzai comedy duo act, Jitsudo is definitely the Martin to Unno’s Lewis, but
the straight man can’t even croon. Unfortunately, when his partner is killed in
an auto accident, Jitsudo’s career starts to look just as dead. Of course,
dealing with his complicated feelings of grief, guilt, and jealousy would be a
good first step in Kensaku Watanabe’s Emi-Abi
which screens during this year’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film in
was the preening Abbott while Unno was the goofy Costello. They were a natural
pairing, but it was Kurosawa, the respected Manzai veteran, who brought them
together. After retiring from the stage seven years ago, Kurosawa has developed
a reputation for aloof eccentricity, perhaps not completely unlike Bill Murray.
After weeks of feeling sorry for himself, Jitsudo is finally facing up to his
pseudo-mentor, but it will be difficult, because Kurosawa’s beloved younger
sister Hinako also died in the car with Unno.
meeting will go spectacularly badly, but perhaps there is a method to Kurosawa’s
madness. In any event, their encounter spurs flashbacks to Unno’s first datish
night out with Hinako. It also took an ugly turn, but it vividly explains how
they forged such a deep connection.
Emi-Abi sounds like a
tonal mine field, but Watanabe (the award-winning screenwriter of The Great Passage) manages to scamper
through unscathed. A good deal of credit goes to the uniformly understated
cast. Surprisingly, this most definitely includes Tomoya Maeno’s poignant Unno.
He might be rubber-faced when the footlights are on, but Maeno plays him as the
grandpappy of all crying-on-the-inside-clowns off-stage.
keep us off balance, Haru Kuroki periodically cold-cocks the audience with out
of left field humor as Natsumi, Jitsudo’s long suffering manager. Kuroki is in
the midst of an amazingly productive period, gracing distinctive and diverse films
like Solomon’s Perjury, Nagasaki: Memories of My Son, and A Bride for Rip Van Winkle. Mari Yamachi is also wonderfully sweet and distressingly
vulnerable as Hinako. Ryu Morioka nicely portrays Sanemichi’s late twenties
midlife crisis, but as Kurosawa, Hirofumi Arai gets to drop all the film’s sly little
surprises—and he makes the most of each one.
Man, if ever there was a bittersweet film, Emi-Abi would be it. Sometimes it is
absolutely charming, but there are scenes that are downright painful to watch,
involving predatory street violence and deliberate humiliation. That’s Manzai
for you. Highly recommended for those who appreciate drama with heart and an
edge, Emi-Abi screens this Sunday
(7/24) at the Japan Society, as part of Japan Cuts 2016.
Labels: Japan Cuts '16, Japanese Cinema