Gothic and Lolita Psycho (2010) by Go Ohara

The subculture of ‘gothloli’ is one that is perfectly suited to this brand of anarchic comedy-horror-action, blending as it does the cutesy cartoonish nature of Lolita with the darker gothic style. Yuki (Rina Akiyama) is a caricature of at typical goth-loli, bedecked in coquettish black Victorian frills, on a mission to avenge the death of her mother for unspecified motives. The film begins in an underground nightspot which seems to be somewhere between a disco, S and M club, and torture dungeon for gangsters. We see people tormented with a blow torch, cage-fighting, or playing an ultra-high stakes game where the penalty is killing a poor victim. This is the kind of establishment where a severed head squashed with a mallet brings a cheer rather than a scream. In this kind of environment, Yuki is hardly out of place. Her target: Sakie, a woman who is controlling the gambling in this establishment. Yuki’s weapon of choice is a lethal umbrella, bullet-proof and with a  sharp blade in the end. We see through flashbacks an attack on Yuki’s family that left her mother dead and her father, a priest, in a wheelchair. Yuki sets out to kill the five people responsible and perhaps find some answers.

Directed by Go Ohara and written by Hisakatsu Kuroki “Goth Loli Psycho” is silly low-budget fun and doesn’t pretend to anything more. We find that each of the characters seems to have paranormal abilities, either telekinesis or psychic powers. There are a few nice touches, such as Yuki burning tarot-style cards each time she dispatches one of her targets. The humour is slapstick but works for the most part, with some laugh-out-loud moments if you have a black sense of humour. The villains are distinguished enough from each other to make their encounters entertaining. There is plenty of action and the direction of the fights is well done. Visual effects are largely practical, and mostly work well, though budget constraints mean there are recognizable rubber heads and limbs. The CG effects are understandably poor, and an example of where suspension of disbelief, or turning a blind eye is required. Likewise, the locations of early fight sequences, a school gym and rooftop, seem a little uninspired. However, the underground nightclub and the climactic setting of the film are fantastic stages for the carnage. All of the actors know exactly how ludicrous the premise is and ham it up at every opportunity. The music has some fantastic choral arrangements for when Yuki executes a rival, playing into the style of the character.

Nobody watching a film called “Goth Loli Psycho” will be expecting high art. It has enough charm to make it entertaining, leaning more to the tongue-in-cheek comedy side than the extreme gore (although there is no shortage of blood on display). From the opening moments we know exactly what film we are getting and it rarely strays from the well-worn revenge film path. Worth checking out if you are looking for something wacky to pass the time.

Extro (2019) by Naoki Murahashi

Kozo Haginoya is a 64 year old who is signed up to a film extras agency called Lark. He is the subject of a documentary that is being filmed. Haginoya is something of a dreamer, hoping one day to be given the role of a fireman in a movie, like his acting hero Steve McQueen in the “Towering Inferno”. Despite having no discernible talent for acting, and generally being a disaster when it comes to doing what the director wants of him, he nevertheless seems content to keep trying. When it is discovered that there may be a man wanted in connection with drug dealing working at the same agency, two undercover detectives also decide to enter the world of extra work in order to catch the criminal.

“Extro” is a mockumentary that has several well-worked gags, often relying on subtle cringe humour rather than slapstick. Kozo Haginoya gives a fantastic comic performance playing it completely deadpan as with everyone else. While he is almost completely unable to follow direction, he has charm and a constantly upbeat attitude to everything, apologising to those around him for messing up the takes. The film features several professional actors and directors, including Nobuhiko Obayashi (House) and Yasufumi Terawaki. These help lend the mockumentary some credibility and the film definitely goes all out to make it look as genuine as possible. Most of the film revolves around the Ibaraki Edo Warp Station, a large reconstruction of an Edo-era town used in various films and television shows. Haginoya finds work as an extra in a couple of films, including one historical romantic drama. The film takes an odd turn in the latter half with the introduction of the police storyline, sidelining that of Haginoya. It feels as though the film-makers wanted something to give a sense of narrative. While this plot provides some great moments with the incompetent detectives becoming enamoured of their new ‘profession’, it is a shame that Haginoya’s story is shelved for a portion while this plays out. Many of the best gags are those that are character-driven or related to the problems with filming.

The film is a fun mockumentary on an ageing actor who is pursuing his dream with little concern about his ability or the possibility of achieving it. The entire cast give great performances and are entirely believable as extras at the Lark volunteer talent agency. While it loses its way a little in attempting to force the film into a narrative structure, there are many fantastic moments. It provides a peek behind the curtain at how films are made, gently yet warmheartedly poking fun at the acting profession.

Wood Job! (2014) by Shinobu Yaguchi

When Yuki Hirano (Shota Sometani) fails his university entrance exams he finds himself at a loss. Not able to follow his classmates to further education, he is dealt a further blow when his girlfriend tells him they should split up. While out drinking with friends he sees a leaflet advertising a one year project to work in forestry. Enamoured by the beautiful young woman on the leaflet he sets out for the countryside where he learns all about this new trade under the stern guidance of Yoki (Hideaki Ito). He is then assigned to the remote village of Kamusari, where he is pleased to find the woman from the leaflet Naoki (Masami Nagasawa) is also living. Yuki attempts to ingratiate himself with the villagers, learning about rural life and the woods, in hopes of connecting with Naoki. Naoki however, having been disappointed by another trainee, is reluctant to fall for Yuki.

“Wood Job!” is based on the novel by Shion Miura. Written and directed by Shinobu Yaguchi (Swing Girls, Robo-G) it is very much part of his oeuvre of lighthearted comedies. With a romantic plot and plenty of gentle humour it is an easy watch. Most of the laughs come from Yuki’s attempts to learn about forestry, including tying knots, using a chainsaw, and not shouting “Timber!” when the trees fall. When he finally makes it to Kamusari we are treated to scenes of him balking at their local food and drink (road-kill deer and alcohol with a dead snake in) and customs. There is a comfortable familiarity to the plot and it delivers exactly what you expect from early on at every turn. That is not to say it is not enjoyable. The film builds on a sense of relaxation that is in keeping with the themes, which are all about the quiet, nature-focussed rural life, as opposed to the rat-race of the city. The charismatic cast exude bonhomie and their affable and affectionate relationships are entirely believable. Shota Sometani is likeable as the inept and naïve city kid, completely out of his depth, but with a bottomless passion and determination to battle on. Masami Nagasawa provides the perfect foil as the cool and confident school-teacher Naoki, whose worries about her future are always bubbling below the surface of her genial disposition. Hideaki Ito also delivers a great comic turn as Yuki’s superior Yoki, at first displeased by what he sees as Yuki’s incompetence, but slowly won over by his resolve. The film was shot on location in Mie prefecture and features stunning shots of the forested mountains. The direction distinguishes between the city and the countryside in an interesting way, using a frenetic fixed camera on Yuki in the overwhelming and chaotic city and large panoramic takes in the countryside, firmly differentiating the hectic streets from the quiet charm of the mountains.

The traditions of rural communities are a fascinating insight into human civilisation and can offer a window into what has been lost by the move to increasingly large metropolitan areas. The nature of forestry work demands a close connection with and understanding of the natural world, and “Wood Job!” reflects on this in various conversations between the characters. Whether that is the idea that nature deserves respect, or the deep understanding of ones place in history through the cycles of harvesting and planting. Yuki is a character who is completely lost, having fallen off the expected path from high-school to university to work. His move to the countryside provides him with a chance to examine what is important in life. The pace of life, the simplicity born of a lack of distractions, the focus on community and tradition, all of these things change his perspective. In the end, Yuki’s journey speaks to everyone who is trapped in the largely meaningless and monotonous faux-reality of modernity. It is a call for a return to nature, to ideals of family, community, and enjoying the good things in life.

Little Miss Period (2019) Shunsuke Shinada

Aoko (Fumi Nikaido) works as a journalist at a lifestyle magazine. As well as her demanding job and attempting to form a relationship with her romantic partner’s teenage daughter, she also has to deal with an unwanted visitor every month. This comes in the form of a large pink fluffy mascot in red pants, representing her period. Miss Period, as she is known, repeatedly punches her hard in the stomach, and Aoko has to lug her around on her back. Miss Period also occasionally puffs out soporific vapour making Aoko drowsy. In this world, every woman is followed around by a similar mascot, some larger and some smaller, but all irritating in their own way. Yamamoto (Sairi Ito) is a cleaner at this same company, still living with her parents, with her period being just one more frustration on top of the stress of work and her lack of a boyfriend. A third plot thread revolves around Aoko’s sister Hikaru (Risaki Matsukaze), and her boyfriend, as they begin a fledgling romance. These women must attempt to remain strong and reach their goals, while this invisible burden seems determined to disrupt their lives.

Based on the manga by Ken Koyama, “Little Miss Period” addresses head on an issue that is of major importance to women, yet often goes ignored by companies and even partners. Making the period a visible, comically designed and portrayed, mascot, which appears early on like a horror movie slasher creeping up on her victims, is a brilliant touch. Externalising this issue, showing the physical exertion and determination required to cope with it, makes for an entertaining way to deal with the various problems caused by it. Both Fumi Nikaido (Fly Me to the Saitama) and Sairi Ito (Love and Other Cults) get the chance to show off their comedic talents. Both are supremely likeable in their roles. Nikaido’s Aoko is a determined career woman, who will not let anything stand in her way. Working in a difficult environment she finds she has to pretend not to be affected by her period, instead putting on a brave face in front of her co-workers. Her relationship with Karin (Toyoshima Hana), the daughter of her widowed lover, is one of the most moving parts of the film, showing her trying to do her best for this girl who is unwilling to accept a new mother. Ito’s Yamamoto on the other hand is a virtual shut-in, resentful of everyone around her and painfully shy when confronted with the chance for love. Director Shunsuke Shinada does a great job of bringing what is a weird concept to life on the screen. The design of Miss Period (Seiri-chan in Japanese) is bizarre, and could so easily have derailed the narrative, but all the actors do such a tremendous job of acting alongside it that it becomes just another character in the drama. The film goes heavy on the comedy of what is happening, deflating the taboo around menstruation, cramps, nausea, drowsiness and other symptoms, with gentle humour. Also, the oblivious male characters who continue on as normal despite the women being weighed down or distracted by this, offers relatable humour for the male audience. The men in the film are also troubled by their own unwanted anxieties, in the form of Mr. Sex Drive (who appears spouting lewd pornographic phrases) and Little Boy Virgin (a cherubic figure representative of their lack of sexual maturity). The film’s surrealist, farcical comedy sits evenly alongside moments that are full of heart and genuinely moving.

While “Little Miss Period” is on one level a knockabout comedy, it also shines a light on an often taboo subject. Women still suffer discrimination in the workplace due to a lack of understanding and compassion on this issue. If the film gets people talking about this and understanding what could be done to alleviate some of the problems associated with it, then it will have performed a great service. Despite the message, the film is never po-faced, relying on humour to get its points across. As a film it is hugely entertaining, relying on physical gags and some excellent performances from the leads to develop believable characters and relatable comedy.

NEET Election (2015) by Hikaru Okita and Kiminari Suzuki

Chihiro Inagaki (Kento Kasahara) is a 30-year old NEET, not in education, employment or training. Despite being a top student, and graduating from a prestigious university, he quit his first job after three months after realising that the world of work was not what he had expected. Following his short-lived career he heads to Tokyo to become an actor, but alas this is also doomed to failure. Finding himself back in his hometown of Niigata, he is struggling to get a job, being rejected from every interview he applies for. Chihiro moves into a share-house with other 30-somethings lacking gainful employment, these include Yumi, a woman who still harbours dreams of working in a maid café, Shiho, a former idol, Shinnosuke and Mr. K, a wannabe wrestler never seen without his mask on. The group want to take over one of the shuttered units in the local shopping precinct, but they are unable to convince anyone to lend them money or support their efforts. Finding himself at a loss, Chihiro meets a man who tells him the best way to get the government to listen is to stand to be an assemblyman in the upcoming city elections. Chihiro sets out to do just this, listening to residents problems and working on his pitch to represent the young people of Niigata city.

“NEET Election” is a solid idea but sadly lacking in its execution. It meanders around far too often and needlessly stretches a thin plot to breaking point. The film is intended as a comedy, but a lot of the jokes fall flat. It is clear that the filmmakers wanted to go for a wacky, loveable comedy about a man struggling against the system, but the set-ups and payoffs of the jokes just aren’t really there. One example of where the film does live up to the promise of an over-the-top comedy is in an impromptu flash-mob performance in the centre of town to generate interest in Chihiro’s campaign. But this feels a little out of place in comparison with the rest of the film that revolves around him talking to citizens, delivering speeches and listening to their problems. A bigger problem than the dearth of comedic moments is the lack of any serious connection with the characters. We find out about the shopkeepers who are struggling through the recession, but the woman whose sweetshop is on the verge of closure seems unconcerned, and we don’t see people particularly concerned about it. Likewise, Chihiro’s fellow NEETs seem to almost shrug off their situation, not pleased by it, but far form angry or upset by the lack of jobs. A moment later in the film, where Chihiro is accosted by two women asking about Japan’s nuclear energy industry, again gives an example of where the film could have delved a little deeper into the difficulties of running for office, but it is almost passed over.

The film doesn’t really succeed as a comedy or political drama, with too few laughs and too little detail or emotional investment garnered for the characters. This is a shame because voter apathy is something that is a real problem and the film had the potential to create engagement with the subject of politics. Kasahara is good in the lead role, and the supporting cast do their best with the material, but it could have gone much further in detailing the genuine problems faced by people and how difficult it is to break through in the political system. Instead it comes across as a bland exploration of its subject, never fully developing the premise into something entertaining.