Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Fantasia ’20: Fly Me to the Saitama

Saitama is a lot like New Jersey, but not quite as depressing. It is close to Tokyo, but it is definitely not part of Tokyo. Sadly, many Saitama residents developed an inferiority complex after years of Tokyo looking down on them, but a Saitama resistance will rise in Hideki Takeuchi’s adaptation of Mineo Maya’s satirical fantasy manga, Fly Me to the Saitama, which screens as an on-demand selection of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival.

As the son of Tokyo’s grossly corrupt governor, Momomi Hakuhodo strictly enforces the social hierarchy as the student body leader of his elite prep school. It would appear that transfer student Rei Asami has the perfect “Urban Index,” as a Tokyo native, who recently lived in the United States. However, he is actually a Saitama plant. Initially, Hakuhodo considers the mysterious Asami a threat to his authority, but he soon falls head-over-heels for the Saitama rebel. Hakuhodo will even turn his back on his father and his Tokyo birthrate, joining Asami in the Saitama underground, after he is exposed.

This timeless story of rebellion must be true, because Saitama’s most popular radio station broadcasts the story during the wrap-around framing scenes. Regardless, it is indeed a Yaoi boy’s love story, even though Hakuhodo is played by popular actress Fumi Nikaido. In the past, that might have earned the film bonus points for gender-bending, but these days, it could bring down the ire of the “own voices” censors on

Of course, everyone should just take things in the playful spirit they were intended. Yuichi Tokunaga’s adapted screenplay quite cleverly sends up geographic snobbery. Many of the references might be lost on Americans, but if you equate Saitama with Jersey, Tokyo with New York City, and Chiba with Long Island, you will generally get the gist of it.

The cast is also definitely in the spirit of things. Nikaido is quite sweet and endearingly silly as Hakuhodo, while Gackt struts and preens like a peacock as Asami. Plus, Yusuke Iseya hams it up and practically channels the persona of Snidely Whiplash, as the villainous Chiba leader, Sho Akutsu.

Takeuchi gives the film the wild pacing and ruckus vibe of an out-of-control pinball game. Somewhat ironically, cinematographer Sohei Tanikawa’s bright color palate and splashy visuals are probably flashier than the source manga. Recommended for anyone who can appreciate some goofy swashbuckling intrigue,
Fly Me to the Saitama screens as an on-demand selection (geo-locked for Canada) of this year’s Fantasia.