Saturday, September 07, 2013

New York-Tokyo: The Apology King

Don’t call it kowtowing.  This is the “Dogeza,” a traditional form of Japanese apology that does indeed involve lowering one’s head to the ground.  Yuzuru Kuroshima knows it well.  As director of the Tokyo Apology Center, he counsels clients in need of forgiveness.  Business will be brisk in Nobuo Mizuta’s The Apology King (trailer here), which screened this week in Manhattan as part of the New York-Tokyo film program, in advance of its September 28th Japanese opening.

Noriko Kuramochi had a fender-bender with the wrong people.  After compounding her problems, she enlists Kuroshima’s help apologizing to the yakuza. Having been saved from a life in the sex trade, Kuramochi enlists as Kuroshima’s assistant.  She might be considered an office manager, if Kuroshima had an office.  Instead, they work out of a coffee shop, which is very New York.  Frankly, it does not matter.  They will spend a great deal of time out in the field.

At first, King appears rather episodic, but eventually characters from one case will reappear in another.  With varying degrees of success, Kuroshima will coach a clueless junior executive in the lingerie industry accused of sexual harassment, a veteran actor and his ex-wife with a public embarrassment for a son, and a team of filmmakers who inadvertently shot footage of the crown prince of Mantan. 

Although a tiny principality, Mantan is a critical trading partner for Japan.  Unfortunately, they have very different cultural traditions.  Filming the royals is a big no-no, as are other common Japanese practices.  As further misunderstandings snowball, Kurosawa finds himself advising the government in the midst of a diplomatic crisis.

Mizuta and his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Kankurô Kudô, certainly are not afraid a little goofball humor.  It is frankly kind of amazing to see such distinguished looking cast members engaged in the climatic dogeza-trumping apology.  Mizuta must be one persuasive director.  He also handles the flashbacks and overlapping strands of narrative quite dexterously.  While King is out for shameless guffaws, it is oddly impressive how it all fits together.

The bowl cut sporting Sadao Abe is appropriately manic as Kuroshima, but he is never abrasive, pulling viewers in rather than pushing them away.  In fact, he displays understated sensitivity in his own backstory flashback sequence.  Likewise, as Kuramochi, Mao Inoue plays off and with Abe’s Kuroshima quite well.  Katsumi Takahashi fittingly hams it up as the hammy thesp Tetsuro Nambu and Yasuko Matsuyuki is wonderfully tart tongued as his Helen Mirren-esque ex.  However, Gaku Hamada is weirdly mannered and shticky as Wakbal, the Mantan translator from Hell.

Granted, much of King’s humor is so broad it requires little translation.  Yet, some of the material involving the more confused than remorseful undergarment client will fall flat for American audiences.  Aside from that misfiring subplot, King is a charmingly goofy with a nice heart.  As an extra added bonus, it ends with a music video style dance number, featuring Abe’s eccentric moves and the synchronized choreography of J-Pop girl group, E-girls. Recommended for those who appreciate screwball humor, The King of Apology opens the 28th in Japan, following its Fantasia and New York-Tokyo screenings in North America.