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FINE, TOTALLY FINE (also known as ZENZEN DAIJOBU) is the debut film from writer and director Fujita Yosuke. After revisiting memorable scenes days after my initial viewing, I've decided that this very well may be one of my favorite live-action films from Japan.
Arakawa YosiYosi, whom you may recognize from small roles in Japanese movies and dramas (MEMORIES OF MATSUKO, "TIGER AND DRAGON"), finally gets a deserving starring role. His character is Teruo, the son of a struggling used bookstore owner. Obsessed with scaring people and collecting horror memorabilia--including monster figurines with his frighteningly accurate head on them--his dream is to build a truly terrifying haunted house. Although his thirtieth birthday is approaching soon, it doesn't show one bit.
Teruo's brother, Hisanobu (Okada Yoshinori), on the other hand, does a better job of acting his age. He always tries to please everyone at the hospital that employs him, but he's hopelessly single and ultimately bored with himself. He immediately falls for Akari (Kimura Yoshino), the attractive, introverted star-of-the-show who's so clumsy it's almost unbelievable. We first meet her as she spies on an eccentric homeless woman who builds colorful statues from garbage and scotch tape. Armed with binoculars in one hand and fish sausage in the other--which she has a sweet tooth for--she peers at her from behind a rock. When she returns home to her small apartment, she plays a cassette of rain sounds, makes expressive portraits of the woman with oil pastels, and hangs them around the room for only herself to enjoy.
After a short period of time, Akari leaves her job at the hospital, where she once worked alongside Hisanobu, and instead finds work at the bookstore. It doesn't take long for Teruo to take interest in her, which is where the love triangle begins. ZENZEN doesn't exactly have a typical, defined plot line, but it does present a engaging, hilarious character study. Judging by the laughter I heard throughout the movie at its North American premiere, I would venture to say that the audience didn't mind this element.
I cannot stress how well-crafted the humor is, particularly from someone new to the business. While ZENZEN can come off as quirky and unusual, it's presented in a fairly realistic manner. That's not to say the dialogue is sparse, but, for the most part, the pacing is more comparable to that of a drama than a comedy. Others may find this to be the film's weakness, but I would argue that it's the key to making it soar.
How anyone could not fall in love with this charming underdog of a film is beyond my comprehension. I dare you not to laugh.
*A note to IMDbers: I don't give out 10 stars too often, so don't take my score too lightly. Also, it supposedly won the Audience Award at the New York Asian Film Festival.
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