レンコーンの夜 「Renko-n no yoru」
Running Time: 43 mins.
Director: Yasumasa Konno
Starring: Yuji Komatsu, Toru Kizu, Hidetoshi Kawaya, Akana Ikeda, Suguru Onuma, Atsushi Yamanaka,
This one was fun and my second favourite film from the Housen strand and at only 43 minutes, it flew by with a flurry of laughs. Its story about a freshly-minted salaryman forced to join the R&D department of a failing company and given the difficult task of saving it from imminent closure through inventing some new contraption is delightfully whimsical since it features a cast of good-natured if odd characters and a script that warmly embraces them. Yasumasa Konno, already something of an experienced writer and director, further shows his skills with this.
The story starts with 28-year-old Shinji Hanayama visits a small company named Nakata Cyber desperate for a job. They are famous for making 3D glasses and televisions but have fallen on hard times. After a cursory interview where the boss assures himself that Shinji will just be a yes-man, he is hired and given control of the company’s R&D department to come up with a new gadget to make sure that a bank invests in the project. There’s a deadline and it’s next week or the company will go bankrupt without that financing.
Hanayama goes to the company’s building near Lake Kasumigaura in Ibaraki Prefecture and meets his new colleagues, a cast of kooky characters. Shinji Hanayama is bewildered by his huge brief and the staff he has joined point him in various directions. At first, he has no idea what to do but this drifting young man is told about a magical hope by Lake Kasumigaura, a phantom lotus root named Giant Lotus Root which can grant wishes or, thanks to a competition, 80 million yen. For the characters living in the facility, both options are good.
The comedy comes naturally from the quirky characters and it’s of the good-natured sort. It starts almost immediately with lots of verbal sparring based on character traits – Shinji has to fool a bank employee by pretending to have attended MIT to assure the man he isn’t some random off the street (which he is) – to more broader physical comedy such as a delivery driver named Igarashi who is a bit slap happy and likes to knock Shinji about. At the facility itself is Mr Hashiguchi from Tsukuba University, a straight-man amidst all of the clowns and someone looking for the magical renkon and providing some context to the narrative, a morose suicidal researcher named Ogata and his two children, high school girl Izumi and her younger brother Ryobo who likes to lurk around the facility with night vision goggles and a BB gun shooting various people.
This clash of characters is fun to watch especially as the character playing Shinji makes his character sympathetic and easy to relate to. Seeing his confused face as he’s hounded by his new “housemates” at the facility, particularly the charming little tyke named Ryobo who wanders around with his goggles and gun, is fun to watch.
The film was a four day shoot with two days on location at lake Kasumigaura in Ibaraki Prefecture and the locations chosen, especially Kasumigaura, were scenic and the film was pretty cinematic especially in Konno’s use of different shots to capture scenes from POV shots from various characters exploring the R&D facility mixed with more familiar medium shots to catch the action. Maybe its the warm colours and clean lighting along with the snappy editing that gave the film a refreshing feel or maybe it was the fact that the only thing this film wanted to be was silly, it was a joy to watch.
Konno cuts all unnecessary action out with the narrative and keeps the rhythm flowing smoothly with twists and turns coming thick and fast, the jokes packed into each scene and a decent amount of characterisation to make everyone feel like individuals with connections to each other. There’s a warmth and familiarity in their interactions which speaks a lot about their chemistry. Even Ogata is charming in his own way and fits in with this group. It would be great to spend more time with these actors and their characters since they capture the fun tone of the story. That written, the film is already at a perfect length and everything wraps up cleanly.
The ending was a little too sentimental for me but it fit in with the narrative as magic and technology combine to instil some family values in the characters. Whimsical and charming, this is a true crowd-pleaser that can be shown at any festival.
Born in 1989, Konno and graduated from Waseda University Faculty of Literature and completed graduate school video course at the Tokyo University of the Arts. He has worked as a director, screenwriter and editor on indie titles such as the drama Happy Toy (2015), the omnibus film Listener (2015) to feature-length horror films like Halloween Nightmare 2 (2015) and Valentine’s Nightmare (2016). I’ve written about each in my trailer posts and I expect to keep writing about his films since he has moved on to other projects.