1 item from 1999
11 January 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »
When you say "Japanese film", your first word association is not likely to be comedy. But this movie pleasingly defies festival expectations. A madcap farce centering on the production of a radio drama, "Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald" is a frothy, "Soapdish" kind of lark. It's zany and fast-paced, with the frantic comic furor of some of Blake Edwards' high-octane mayhem.
While it's not likely to attract notice among mainstream audiences, this deliriously funny film was a hit with festival audiences at last year's Chicago International Film Festival. Cities with significant Asian-American populations could make this one an art house sleeper.
The comic craziness is set against the deadline atmosphere of a Tokyo radio station, where the production "team," including some voice-over artists, is putting on a live radio show. It's a swoony melodrama, much in the style of those golden oldies from American radio such as "Pepper Young" and "Stella Dallas". This scenario is especially drippy, the outcome of a dramatic contest sponsored by the station in which the single entrant, not surprisingly, was the grand-prize winner.
The script is stilted silly, but it's taken deadly seriously by its housewife-writer, a shy, deferential young woman, and it's regarded as high art by the assorted vocal players, each of whom only has one quibble with the script -- it doesn't pay proper justice to their particular character.
In short, the "team" is a wild and idiosyncratic group, from the obsequious producer to the prima donna female star. Included in the mix are a bitter security guard who was a former sound man and the writer's insecure, car-salesman husband. This mix of oddballs, not surprisingly, will ring true to anyone who has ever ventured near the entertainment industry.
Screenwriter-director Koki Mitani's eye for foibles is evident, and he wisely stokes the character clashes to their believable max. Undeniably, the narrative itself is generally predictable, but it's delivered with such speed and skill that the belly laughs overcome the unremarkable story line.
The players are a well-selected screwball group, including Kyoka Suzuki as the serious-minded writer and Toshiaki Karasawa as the cool-and-collected director. Keiko Toda is terrific as the lead actress, vainglorious and conniving.
Technical contributions are smartly realized, with special kudos to editor Hirohide Abe for the fast pacing.
WELCOME BACK, MR. MCDONALD
Screenwriter-director: Koki Mitani
Based on the play "Radio No Jikan" by Mitani and the Tokyo Sunshine Boys
Directors of photography: Kenji Takama, Junichi Tozawa
Editor: Hirohide Abe
Music: Takayuki Hattori
Sound mixer: Tetsuo Segawa
Art director: Tomio Ogawa
Kudo: Toshiaki Karasawa
Miyako Suzuki: Kyoka Suzuki
Ushijima: Masahiko Nishimura
Nokko Senbon: Keiko Toda
Ben Noda: Takehiko Ono
Suhuru Hosaka: Shiro Namiki
Furukawa: Yasukiyo Umeno
Hiromitsu: Jun Inoue
Running time -- 103 minutes
No MPAA rating
1 item from 1999
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