by Jason Suzuki
Having directed the immensely enjoyable Fine, Totally Fine (2008) and the segment with the cheering girls in Quirky Guys and Gals (2011), Yosuke Fujita returns with regular collaborator Yoshiyoshi Arakawa for his second film about life and interactions of the hard-working middle aged man of the title, Fuku-chan (Miyuki Oshima). The films shows Fuku-chan at work, where he works with his best friend played by Arakawa in supporting role this time, and at home where he befriends two outcast neighbors. Fuku-chan is understanding of others, not judgmental, and just an overall good guy. He is able to resolve conflicts at work and between his neighbors, leaving everyone friends during the process. The film bounces back and forth between Fuku-chan and Chiho (Asami Mizukawa who starred inBilocation covered in Cinema Adrift Vol. 4), an aspiring photographer who has just won her first photography award and is taken under the wing of an eccentric, pretentious, and lecherous photography superstar. Eventually her path will cross with Fuku-chan’s having the film blossom into a story of friendship and possible romance.
By introducing the romance angle so late into the film, Fujita gives himself time to allow us to really care for Fuku-chan and his life. The lead is played by famous female comedian Miyuki Oshima, and if it wasn’t such a selling point of the film I don’t think I would have realized our lead wasn’t a man until after I had seen the film. It’s hard to say what this casting decision does to an interpretation or engagement with the film. Fuku-chan’s looks are brought up in the film, his having been bullied in school for them, and him being extremely reluctant when asked to be the subject of a photo book. But the film never foregrounds Oshima as a woman playing a man, letting it be just a natural decision. Actors constantly play people who’ve taken different paths of life and have different thoughts and outlooks on life than themselves, so a natural extension of that is that a character’s gender should be no hindrance for an actor to take on a role. Oshima’s performance is amazing but the film overall is so satisfying that it would be a shame if her casting were to continuously overshadow the work itself.
The supplements top the film included on the DVD consist of an interview with director Yosuke Fujita as well as a round-table discussion on the film with Fujita, Miyuki Oshima, and producer Adam Torel where members of an audience were able to ask questions. Together they total a little over 30 minutes and provide insights into the film that might not have been gathered had a different distributor with not as much investment in the film and its director, Third Window Films has released been involved. This is one of those films that I was so glad just to have a release of it that no extras would have been okay. Going in with that mindset I was glad Oshima was allowed to speak about her process, the focus of any discussion about the film will understandably always find its way to the fact she’s playing a man.
While he touches on it briefly in his one-on-one interview, Fujita doesn’t talk too much about the Japanese film industry and how its conditions have influenced the rate at which he can produce films. Luckily it gets brought up during the round-table Q&A. And we get answers that we have heard before about the difficulty to make original works voiced by such other filmmakers like Kiyoshi Kurosawa. At least with Kurosawa he is one of a few directors who have become the go-to Japanese filmmakers you program at a festival regardless of the quality of their latest film. Along with Kore-eda, Miike, Sono, and Kawase it’s hard for audiences to get to see films made from other talents. Third Window Films’ release of Fukufuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats is highly appreciated and highly recommended to anyone who doesn’t want to see Japan’s film output become anymore devoted to manga/anime adaptations. On top of that it’s also just a great depiction of the friendships forged by social outcasts. That this film exists is a good thing but most importantly it’s a great film. Third Window Films has grown from just distributor to now also producer which as indicated by this and The Land of Hopemeans they will be able to further nurture exciting filmmakers just as they have done when they were just releasing the films. A must own Japanese film release of this year.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.