Quirky Guys and Gals is a Japanese anthology of four short films with a common theme of, well, quirkiness! In "Cheer Girls", a trio of ex-cheerleaders forms a squad whose sole mission is to cheer anybody in need, with some uplifting songs and dance routines. But do their actions truly have the desired effect? In "Boy? Meets Girl", a shy student, used to fading in the background, shines when he lets himself talk into dressing up as a girl to get close to the object of his affection. In "Claim Night" a Japanese woman's war against a customer care department produces an unexpected result. In "The House Full of Abandoned Businessmen", a Japanese woman's house becomes a haven for unemployed businessmen trying to hide their situation from their families.
Before even getting into the film, I must point out that, as a bonus, the DVD has each director presenting their segment for the UK audience with some rather amusing introductions. They all seem very surprised that the film is being shown in the UK, oblivious to the (justified!) fascination of the West for Japan. A very candid Tomoko Matsunashi (Boy? Meets Girl) cheerily admits that she is through with films and will only ever make another one once she can find the motivation again, and Mipo O (Claim Night) warns us that we might struggle to understand the Japanese idiosyncrasies, and insists we do not take her characters as representative of her culture.
The first segment is probably the one closest to what you would expect from a quirky Japanese comedy, with the crazy colours, fast editing and even some mild slapstick cartoon violence. The trio of cheerleaders surely is a sight to behold, with matching outfits and a dance routine that seems inspired from a Japanese cartoon. (I would love to unleash them on the Central line during the morning rush hour). This section is rather entertaining, and despite the light tone at first, it turns out their goal is not quite as gratuitous as it first seems. Indeed with a flashback we are given a glimpse of the motivation for the main cheerleader. Shame then that the film is too short to properly develop its ideas. It is the one segment that would have actually benefited from being made into a full-length film, to give more substance to the characters and emerging narrative threads.
The "Tootsie in Japanese high school" second segment is amusing enough but a little too straightforward. The best part is the ease with which the shy student is willing to turn himself into a girl, and a convincing one at that, breaking hearts in her/his path with seductive and devastating winks. I have often noticed that Japanese men do not seem to have any qualms with putting on some women's clothes (I once saw several Uniqlo billboards in Tokyo with a whole bunch of men cheerily modelling for women's clothes!). While slight, this is still a rather engaging segment with a somehow surprising but sweet ending.
The third section is the most satisfactory, and most dramatic. What starts off as an all too familiar tale of an individual's fight against a soulless customer service department, becomes a study into the culture of apology in Japan and to what extent the Japanese are willing to satisfy their customer's satisfaction, which I am not going to ruin. There is a darker humour at play in here, and it is all nicely wrapped up with a twist in the tail.
The last segment has a more social undertone to it, and with its deadpan sense of humour wrapped up in social conscience, has an echo of Aki Kaurismaki at first. There is a certain surreal sense of humour, with images of unemployed salarymen literally found growing on trees, sadly, the director does not know what to do with the initial premise, and the story does not go anywhere, except for a rather predictable twist.
As ever with that sort of collection of short films, while this makes for a pleasing ensemble, none of the stories are given enough time for a satisfying development (apart from Claim Night). Having said that, while this slight and quirky Japanese comedy anthology is unlikely to win the genre any new fans, any fan of Japanese culture will still find plenty to enjoy in here.
Quirky Guys and Gals is out in the UK on Monday the 3rd of October, and is released by Third Window. All pictures on this post property of Third Window.
Directors: Yosuke Fujita, Gen Sekiguchi, Mipo O, Tomoko Matsunashi
Cast: Yosi Arakawa, Aoi Nakamura, Tenkyu Fukuda, Misako Renbutsu...