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An ethnic Korean taxi driver, Tadao, falls for Connie, the Filipina hostess working in his mother's club, all the while dealing with the day-to-day weirdness of his family, bosses and co-workers.
Plot-wise, All Under the Moon lacks any driving through line, instead throwing our a series of vignettes that are mildly amusing. Tadao's eternally cash-strapped colleague hates Koreans but likes Tadao. His repetitious mantra is at first cute but then hints at a darker malaise, the most serious of the film's many narrative strands. Tadao's Korean boss also makes appeals for solidarity on ethnic lines, but Tadao is as disinterested in his boss's overtures as he is in his co-workers' prejudice. He is an honest Joe trying to make a decent living, get some action, and enjoy some drinks and gambling with his mates. His world-weariness with Korean peninsula politics, Japanese discrimination, and his mother's hypocrisy (she decries Japanese prejudice against Koreans, while telling Tadao she'll disown him if he marries Connie), subtly implies that it is time we all moved on from such stifling arguments. And yet he falls for Connie, a woman more marginalized in Japanese society than himself, suggesting he has internalized something of the status Japan assigns him, or perhaps is rejecting all the potential marking the choice of a Japanese or Korean lover would bring.
The lack of plot, and comic set-ups, make the film feel like a big screen spin-off of some much-loved but parochial TV dramedy. More of interest is the performances of the two leads, who bring an under-stated warmth to the journey Tadao and Connie undertake. Gorô Kishitani's naturalistic presentation makes Tadao an everyman figure despite his 'exotic' stamp in Japanese society. When a customer outs him in his taxi, Tadao becomes the quintessential respectful taxi driver indulging a drunk customer, while in the act of 'owning up to' his Koreaness. Unlike most gaijin who try it, Ruby Moreno as Connie manages to pull off playing in Japanese dialect without sounding like a clown. The hard-but-vulnerable female working in the 'water trade' is an archetype, but Moreno keeps it fresh and vibrant. Deadpan Tadao and excitable Connie play off each other delightfully, while managing to make their relationship seem familiar and poignant.
The film threads in its questions about Japanese identities frequently, but never in a heavy-handed way. For Japanese audiences, glimpses of a 'hidden' Japan - a Korean wedding ceremony, church services in Spanish - might prove something of an eye-opener.
Tadao is never troubled enough as a protagonist to make this film compelling, but there is a charm to the romance story, and some smiles at the antics of the taxi drivers, that bring their own entertainment. And as a rare example of Japanese minorities taking centre stage on film, this movie will no doubt continually attract attention.
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