Romaji: Zenzen Daijobu
Release Date: 26th February 2008 (Japan),
Running Time: 110 mins.
Director: Yosuke Fujita
Writer: Yosuke Fujita
Starring: YosiYosi Arakawa, Yoshino Kimura, Yoshinori Okada, Noriko Eguchi, Naoki Tanaka, Keizo Kanie, Shima Ise, Kitaro
For a title Fine, Totally Fine sounds like damning with faint praise but don’t be fooled because the film is a relaxing and charming tale of people forced to grow that will have you recognising much of yourself in the characters and feeling refreshed.
Teruo (Arakawa) lives at home with his heart-sick used bookstore owner father named Eitaro (Kanie). Teruo is nearing his 30th birthday and when not working as a part time gardener he spends his days aimlessly dreams of building a haunted house which he hopes will be able to “scare people to death” and secure him riches. His childhood friend Hisanobu (Okada) may have a respectable job as a hospital administrator but he still helps Teruo in his childish schemes, however his enthusiasm is waning since he feels his life is stuck in a rut. He is not the only one as Eitaro ups and leaves Tokyo so he can roam the country which leaves Teruo and his sister stunned. Enter clumsy artist Akari (Kimura). She has a love for fish paste sausages and painting but she also has a ‘negative aura’ which results in self-injury. When she attends a job interview at the hospital Hisanobu works at he falls in love with her and when her accident-prone nature forces her to quit Hisanobu snags her a job at Teruo’s bookstore while trying to channel Akari’s artistic talents. Unfortunately for Hisanobu, Teruo falls for Akari, regarding her as his future wife and looking for a way to woo her but life is not that simple.
Yosuke Fujita’s is a writer and theatre director and this is his movie debut. The time spent on stage and script seems to have armed him perfectly for his debut film because the insights into human nature are sharp and delivered amid moments of gentle but highly amusing humour.
I’ve had enough of this. We both turn 30 next year. We can’t keep playing kids games.
The film is split into three narrative strands centred on Akari, Teruo, and Hisanobu.
Arakawa gets the majority of screen-time as we follow Teruo’s ambitious but vaguely defined dream of building a haunted house. Teruo is mostly obnoxious in the way boys are: he reads porn whilst eating, flicks snot at people and thinks he is the centre of the world. It would be hard to stomach him as an individual but Arakawa’s performance brings out the boyish innocence of the character. His broad face conveys a childish sense of glee over his love of horror and it is easy to see why people may initially be charmed by his plans even if they are pipe dreams.
The childishness goes much deeper and the term arrested development arises. Outwardly it shows in his dress sense which includes wearing jumpers that make him look like an overgrown kid. He has no sense of reality since he springs his elaborate scares on anyone and everyone, resulting in other adults scolding him and calling him a degenerate. Teruo’s friends are equally hopeless. One is making a home-made horror film but his passion far outweighs his budget and talent while the others look as if they are stuck in a time-warp. The parlous state of their maturity is shown in a wonderful scene where Teruo arrives at a gang meeting late and as apology for wasting that most important adult resource of time he offers that most important resource of children, snacks. It smacks of routine and stagnation.
Okada, as Hisanobu, plays the straight-man. Out of all of the friends Hisanobu seems to be the most successful. He has managed to secure himself a job and the respect of his colleagues but it is built on the uncertain foundation of over-sensitivity and a degree of meekness which Okada displays in his reserved portrayal and bashful smile. Hisanobu’s kind-hearted desire to help scores him major points with his female colleagues but makes him a target of his jealous boss who insults him. When insulted Hisanobu experiences self-doubt over his natural personality so it is no surprise when he is drawn to a fellow sensitive and uncertain creature.
Kimura, playing Akari, is the dramatic axis of the film while still bringing a lot of humour to the role. Her art shows her to be in possession of an original view of the world as well as a sense of being an outsider as demonstrated by subjects she chooses to paint. Akari tries her best to fit in but her danger-prone nature always thwarts these attempts in the most comic ways. As a result, when not engaged in art, she spends most of the film trying to avoid being in trouble and apologising when it occurs. She is the one who the boys bounce their affections off even if she would rather sink into the background and avoid notice. Hisanobu, like any love-sick male, goes overboard with gifts and niceness while Teruo just assumes that Akari is destined to be his. Thankfully the film defies conventional movie logic by giving her options beyond the two male leads and allowing her the chance to achieve emotional growth through her choice which will affect Teruo and Hisanobu.
Have you ever staked your life on anything?
If you have survived reading up until this point than you can see that the comedy does not come at the expense of the character development. Yosuke Fujita calmly builds up the world that these characters live in and while there are surreal bits it is still very recognisable much like the characters who exist in it. Everybody is allowed time to grow and demonstrate an inner-life. Witnessing Hisanobu try to hit the romantic mark is affecting much like Akari’s desire to remain nearly anonymous and enjoy painting. Fujita respects his creations and sets them the task of addressing some of the set-backs and negative feelings we may encounter. Teruo’s lackadaisical nature and Hisanobu’s meekness is present in everyone much like Akari’s desire to be left alone to live her life the way she wants. That they all find a degree of acceptance to the nature of change without it being overblown or fake is satisfying.
When the film’s credits ran I had felt that it had captured real life as I recognised it. Certain behaviour and characteristics mirrored myself and those I know and so I appreciated the comedy, romance and drama all the more because I was invested with the characters. From the comic performances to the existential angst over one’s direction in life, the film touched my heart.
4 thoughts on “Fine, Totally Fine 全然大丈夫 (2008)”
Full score, I’m impressed. This one is in my DVD pile, waiting to be watched – and you have just raised my expectations!
I hope you like it as much as I do! I got Duelist amongst some other Korean films the other day.
Oh excellent! I was going to say if you can’t get Duelist, I could lend you my copy (since you are NOT in the US). What else did you get?
Not sure though when I’m going to get a chance to watch Fine Totally Fine. I’m still working on my back-log of reviews and am currently only watching what I would otherwise miss out on entirely, i.e. one-off screenings at film festivals or other events.
Kick the Moon and Hansel and Gretal. I’ll have a mini Korean film season coming up with titles like My Boss, My Hero and Old Boy