Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fine, Totally Fine

by Drew Martin
Fine, Totally Fine (Zenzen daijobu) is a neo-slacker Japanese love-story from 2008 with 1960's new wave tendencies. It is both utterly silly and brilliant, and had me burst-out laughing in a few parts. Though it got mediocre reviews and viewers complained it is painfully slow, I would rank it as one of my favorite films; on level with Daisies.

A lovely Yoshino Kimura plays Akari Kinoshita in the movie, a socially awkward, totally spastic young woman who spends much of her time spying on and drawing a homeless woman who makes crazy trash sculptures. She is constantly eating dildoey fish paste sausages, which she keeps in her pocket and offers to strangers. When she gets a job in a hospital her klutziness is amplified: she breaks her finger pushing an elevator button, and slips on blood while cleaning up after an operation. Despite her flaws, two young men (friends about to turn thirty and want to get more serious in their lives) fall deeply in love with her. One of them is a young hospital administrator who hired her despite the fact that she showed up for her interview bloody and muddy (she was attacked by tourists after she dropped and broke their expensive camera when she was trying to take their picture).

The other courter, the friend of the administrator, is the hapless son of a depressed used-book store owner. He is obsessed with blood and gore and dreams of making an extreme haunted house. The administrator helps place Akari at the bookstore when she loses her job at the hospital, and his friend immediately falls in love with her. The bookstore is a more forgiving environment for Akari, which she decorates with her homeless woman paintings.

Most of the smart humor (there is also a lot of raw humor too) is either a visual sequence, like when Akari runs to press the elevator button, and her finger impossibly snaps back at a right angle. Or it is a visual punchline to banter. 

In one of the last scenes the two friends, who have lost Akari to a sensitive art restorer, visit the young couple in Nara, where her boyfriend moved to restore statues of Buddha. The four of them sit to share food and drink in the couple’s apartment. They talk about what the former courters want to see in Nara, and they play a drawing game.

The administrator compliments Akari on her drawing and passes the pad to his hapless friend who has to draw something that begins with the Japanese character, Ra. When he presents the drawing for the others to guess, the administrator laughs “What’s that?”

Akari looks closely and guesses “A fat snake…the legendary tsuchinoko?”  Together, they keep guessing in bewilderment…"A bird?...a monster?.." The friend is offended and says “It’s a camel! Rakuda.” 

The administrator taunts him but Akari’s boyfriend leans in, inspects the drawing and says “But I like the picture. Whether it looks like a camel or not, it’s an interesting shape.” The drawer is honored and proudly holds out his hand and he and the boyfriend shake, which is a total acceptance of all that has happened and acknowledges that Akari has found the right guy.  The picture is not actually shown until the very end, to conclude the scene.

In the next and final scene, several hours later, the four friends are still in the same spot. It is nighttime and the boyfriend and the hapless guy are sleeping where they were once sitting on the floor. Akari and the administrator sit across from each other. She thanks him but he does not understand. Of course she means “for everything” because he was the first one to reach out to her and to lead her to her boyfriend. But instead of this being said and deepening, the conversation turns toward pickles. She leaves the room to get more for the administrator, and he looks around her place. 

Over his shoulder is one of the homeless woman’s sculptures, a picture of the woman by Akari, and one of her boyfriend (half his face has a large red birthmark) which is significant because previously she only drew the woman. Then we see a few more areas he would observe: a work space with sculptures of Buddha, Akari’s crayons and pastels, a couch flanked by more of the homeless woman’s sculptures (she was institutionalized), and finally the last shot: the friend’s drawing of the camel, torn from the notepad and pinned to a beam.

The actors are well-cast and stay in character roles that are spared from being caricatures by the writer and director of this film, Yosuke Fujita. Fujita is a brilliant genius. His sets and props are intimate but never too precious, which can be said about the experiences of the film: Fujita has a thing for used-book stores and was once a janitor in a hospital, which explains the detailed level of humor that comes out in those scenes.

Click here to watch the trailer for Fine, Totally Fine, although I do not think it is a good sampling.