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Based on a novel by one of Japan's greatest writers, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Nobuhiro Yamashita's The Matsugane Potshot Affair has been called a cross between Fargo and Blue Velvet or perhaps Ari Kaurismaki on speed. Known for his irreverent humor and "slacker" films, Yamashita's latest comedy is definitely of the black variety and contains a decapitated head, kinky sex between unequal partners, family members shouting at one another, blackmail, rat poison, and other oddities that may make you simply shrug and say, "alrighty then". Unlike the novel which merely indicted the ineptitude of twin brothers, Matsugane Potshot convicts an entire town of gross stupidity.
Set in the fictional mountain town of Matsugane, the film opens with what appears to be the dead body of a woman lying on an icy, snow-covered road. The only passerby is a young pre-teen who, rather than calling for help, stops to feel her breasts and undergarments. Some may find that funny, some not. When Miyuki, the female victim, turns out to be alive while being examined in the morgue, we discover that she was the victim of a hit and run accident and that the driver, Hikari (Takashi Yamanaka), was the simple minded twin brother of Kotaro Suzuki (Hirofumi Arai), one of the town's two police officers.
Uncooperative with the police, Miyuki cannot explain the presence of an ice pick wound in her hand but the police are unable to charge her with any wrongdoing. When she is released, she returns to the company of her gangster boyfriend Nishioka (Yuichi Kimura), and they proceed to make life miserable for Hikari, beating him and blackmailing him with nude photos so that he will not tell the police of their criminal activity which involve a stash of stolen gold buried under the ice. We never really learn many details of the criminal activity but it is not central to what the film is trying to say.
Yamashita shows the Suzuki clan as indicative of the town's numbing ineptitude. The father after many denials finally confesses to Kotaro that he impregnated Haruko (Tamae Ando), the mentally-challenged daughter of a beauty shop owner but no one seems particularly perturbed. Kotaro is shown as good natured and laid back but a bit off kilter, at least towards the end. One of the funniest scenes in the film takes place when Kotaro, dressed in his full uniform, is so taken aback by the discovery of a severed head that all he can say is, "let's call the police". The brave policeman is so fearful of an influx of mice that he goes to the Water Board to offer a proposal to "cut them off at the source" by poisoning the town's water supply.
The film jumps from one off-the-wall (though low-key) situation to another and, before you can say David Lynch, moves into even stranger territory. Because of the quirkiness of its characters and themes, however, it may not equal the cross-cultural success of Linda Linda Linda, the director's superb 2005 film about the struggles of a female high school rock band. Call it absurd, unconventional, or simply unfathomable, The Matsugane Potshot Affair's dicey and somewhat twisted humor is an acquired taste.
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