Wednesday, July 02, 2014

NYAFF ’14: Fuku-Chan of FukuFuku Flats

FukuFuku Flats is a low rent complex nobody would ever confuse with Melrose Place. Tatsuo Fukuda, a.k.a. Fuku-chan does not exactly have the sort of face you usually see on network television either, but an aspiring photographer from his past finds it inspiring. Lead actress Oshima Miyuki represents a rather unconventional casting choice as well, but she poignantly expresses Fukuda’s loneliness and fear of rejection throughout Yosuke Fajita’s Fuku-Chan of FukuFuke Flats (clip here), which screens during the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival.

As the foreman of a crew of painters, Fukuda always sticks up for the underdog. He also throws a lifeline of friendship to the only tenants in his building more socially awkward than himself. His friend Shimacchi is constantly trying to fix Fukuda up with his wife’s friends, but it never works. The kite-flying enthusiast is simply too intimidated by women—and it is largely Chiho Sugiura’s fault.

While it school, she played a crucial role in a prank that still haunts Fukuda. However, karma has come around. Her decision to quit her job to pursue photography fulltime is not exactly paying dividends. To cover her cosmic overdraft, Sugiura finds Fukuda to apologize, only to be staggered by the character she sees in his face. Initially, he wants nothing to do with her, but it is hard to resist the attention of an attractive woman, despite their complicated history (or perhaps especially because of it).

Clearly, a connection is made, but does it have the same meaning for Fukuda and Sugiura. That is a question that concerns Shimacchi. Yet, Fajita is most forgiving of Sugiura, who is nothing like the mean girl she once was. She is just confused. There are no villains in FukuFuku, just people trying to get by as best they can. It can be especially difficult when you are stark staring bonkers, as is at least one of Fukuda’s neighbors.

While the casting of Miyuki (a comedic performer known for her old men characters) might sound like broad gender-bending comedy in the tradition of Hairspray, there is no ironic winking. FukuFuku is a comedy, but Miyuki plays Fukuda scrupulously straight. Frankly, a more apt comparison would be Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously, even though the film’s tone is radically different.

Asami Mizukawa’s Sugiura is also terrifically understated, but completely engaging as she wrestles with her feelings, while trying to figure out how she made a hash of her life. (Unfortunately, her creepy encounter with a would-be photography mentor feels out of place in the otherwise wistful and honest relationship dramedy.)

Aside from that rare misfire, Fajita agilely pirouettes from everyday comedy of observation, to halting romance, and even potential tragedy, while maintaining a deceptively light touch. Endearing but never cloying, Fuku-Chan of FukuFuke Flats is recommended for those who enjoy messy but mature character-driven films when it screens tomorrow (7/3) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of this year’s NYAFF.