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Fine, Totally Fine
cast: Yosiyosi Arakawa, Yoshino Kimura, and Yoshinori Okada

director: Yosuke Fujita

115 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Third Window DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Max Cairnduff
"Life is more fun when you're an idiot." So says one of the characters in Yosuke Fujita's excellent Japanese slacker comedy, Fine, Totally Fine (aka: Zenzen daijobu). Ostensibly a rom-com, revolving around a love triangle involving its leads, it is actually a film of remarkable (often laugh-out-loud) humour, surprising gentleness, and an affection and charm which make it one of the more memorable films I have seen recently.

Yosiyosi Arakawa (a rising comic actor best known in the west for his part in Ping Pong) plays Teruo, a tree surgeon and part-time assistant in his depressed father's second-hand bookstore. Teruo is nearly 30, obsessed with horror and spends his free time staging elaborate pranks on members of the public and building horror figurines which incorporate his own face. His dream is to build a haunted house for tourists; a place so frightening it will kill those who enter it.

Teruo's best friend and ally in horror pranks is Hisanobu (Yoshinori Okada), a junior manager and salaryman responsible for cleaning services in a Tokyo hospital. Hisanobu, also nearing 30, is a 'Mr Nice Guy' so liked by the cleaners he oversees that they are trying to find him a wife.

Finally, Akari (Yoshino Kimura) is a desperately shy young woman who spends her time drawing pictures of a homeless woman on a nearby beach. Akari, who appears to eat only fish-paste-on-a-stick bars, is hired by Hisanobu to work as a cleaner in the hospital, despite her being so clumsy that she turns up for the interview covered in mud and blood. That doesn't work out, and when it doesn't he introduces her to Teruo, getting her a job in Teruo's father's bookshop as an assistant.

And with that, I've described much of the plot of the film, for there isn't a great deal. Hisanobu, disappointed with nearing 30 and having achieved so little, complains to Teruo that they are wasting their lives. Teruo pursues his dream of the ultimate haunted house partly in response to this, both men fall in love with Akari and try to win her, both however being too shy to ever really mention to her their feelings.

What the above doesn't capture, however, is why this is such a good film. It's certainly not the romantic elements, which are deeply understated, it's not the tension of wondering who Akari will choose (there's never any tension to speak of in the film); really it's not anything plot related at all. Rather, it is that this is a film with delicate pacing that is content to allow the characters to breathe, to allow us to care about them and that along the way is very funny indeed.

Much of the humour in Fine, Totally Fine is absurdist, sometimes even slightly surreal. Yosiyosi Arakawa is a genuine comic talent, communicating an innocence and idiocy which makes him both likeable and innately funny. Humour in the film comes from the physical (Akari's extraordinary clumsiness), the ludicrous (Teruo's pranks and interactions with members of the public as he carries out his day job), from often very well written dialogue (too many examples to mention), embarrassment (as when Hisanobu and Akari try to communicate with each other without either being really able to say anything), comedy even comes from the tragic as Teruo's father clearly heads into a psychological breakdown brought on by extreme depression but along the way watches daytime TV programmes of staggering banality. Director Yosuke Fujita mixes this range of comic styles with real skill, moving effortlessly from one form to another and showing fluency in all of them.

The film is charming, as well as funny. Although the characters are by and large deeply flawed people with inadequate lives, they are distinctly not 'fine' (their standard response when asked how they're doing), and Yosuke Fujita shows real affection for each of them and this lends the film considerable warmth. Overall, there is a sympathy running through the film, for the protagonists and their failings and also for supporting characters such as Teruo's depressed father, or the cleaning lady who takes a (maternal?) interest in Hisanobu. The film likes its characters, all of whom are basically nice people, and I liked them too and, as a result, I found myself caring for them even though unusually there is no real conflict to speak of and no challenge to them beyond that which they present to themselves.

Yosuke Fujita gives each actor time to develop their character, and each does so with considerable skill. Yosiyosi Arakawa is excellent in the central part of Teruo, Yoshino Kimura brings to life Akari's slow gaining of confidence and her awkward charm, and Yoshinori Okada too is skilful in a distinctly quiet part - communicating well Hisanobu's crisis of faith when a colleague accuses him of only being nice because he's afraid otherwise people won't like him.

Fine, Totally Fine is slowly (perhaps it would be better to say relaxedly) paced, though for me at least never boring. Such events as occur are unhurried. Its depiction of Tokyo is as an anonymous urban sprawl, indeed I was quite a way into the film before I was certain it was Tokyo rather than some other large and faceless Japanese city. The characters live in a world where individuality, originality, is not necessarily welcomed or rewarded. That said, when Teruo reaches out for financial help it is not the peculiarity of his vision that is criticised, but his lack of drive for it. In the world of this film, society may not have a place for these misfits, but their own family and friends do and that is no small thing.

Lastly, Fine, Totally Fine often surprises, building a scene and then taking it in a direction that, although unexpected, flows naturally from the characters and the situation. There is something immensely refreshing in watching a film and not knowing where a scene will go, or how the film will end; it's a pleasure not common enough and it's welcome here.

Fine, Totally Fine has, I believe, won two film festival awards to date, a fact that doesn't at all surprise me as it is a work of real charm, originality and interest. It's one of the funniest films I've seen this year, and one of the most enjoyable. I look forward to Yosuke Fujita's next offering.

DVD extras: theatrical trailer, and rather unrevealing interviews with the two male leads Yosiyosi Arakawa and Yoshinori Okada.

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