Saturday, July 11, 2015

Japan Cuts ’15: I Alone

Everybody ought to understand the horoscope has absolutely no value as a daily planning tool. Nevertheless, two losers will prove it ever so clearly, yet again. When the local news station’s “Astrology Idol” advises Libras “go for it,” they do. Chaos thusly ensues in Sho Tsukikawa’s I Alone (trailer here), which screens as a selection of this year’s Japan Cuts, the Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.

Hiroshi Ito is a former punk rocker turned salaryman, who has been thoroughly beaten down by life. Koga Kuroda is the rebellious son of a mildly corrupt police detective. They have very little in common, except they are both Libras who watch the Astrology idol. This is supposed to be their day, but it does not work out that way. Ito gets berated at work, while Kuroda is finally expelled from school for his latest delinquency. That night, out of some madly perverse impulse, Ito decides to steal an idling luxury car. Equally perversely, Kuroda decides to play the hero.

When Kuroda catches up with Ito, both men are rather surprised to find a baby in a card box on the back seat. They are pretty dumb, but they both quickly figure out she is not the daughter of the car’s Yakuza owner. In fact, he kidnapped her to force her reformist politician father to drop out of the mayoral election. Scapegoated for the crime, Ito and Kuroda become wanted men.

The misleadingly titled I Alone is a weirdly effective mish mash of genres, starting out as some sort of Three Men and a Baby style comedy, but morphing into The Raid, when Ito, Kuroda, and his punky friends fight their way to the corrupt mayor’s office in city hall, floor by floor. All the elements of the odd couple buddy picture are present and accounted for, but there are some massive beatdowns and brawls in the third act.

Makita Sports looks like a sad hound dog as Ito, but he captures the zeitgeisty essence of the weary, ever-toiling salaryman archetype. Likewise, Sosuke Ikematsu projects all the nervous energy and cynicism of the disillusioned youth. They develop great chemistry together, especially when they are beating each other fifty seven shades of black and blue. This is definitely their show, but Chiba Masako adds some dignity and character as Kuroda’s teacher, who also happens to be the last holdout against the mayor’s pocket-lining market district redevelopment scheme.

I Alone has to be one of the most “realistically” violent comedies you will see in a month of Sundays. For a film about two very different men uniting for the sake of a baby, it is also unusually unsentimental. However, Kensuke Matsuse’s screenplay is scathing in its contempt for municipal politics. It turns out Japanese politics are a lot like ours. National issues get the most attention, but the biggest money is in local land use and zoning policy. Sharply honed and thoroughly entertaining, I Alone is highly recommended for action comedy fans when it screens tomorrow (7/12) at the Japan Society, as part of the 2015 Japan Cuts.