Farewell: Comedy of Life Begins with A Lie
グッドバイ 嘘からはじまる人生喜劇 「Guddobai: Uso kara Hajimaru Jinsei Kigeki」
Release Date: February 14th, 2020
Duration: 106 mins.
Director: Izuru Narushima
Writer: Satoko Okudera (Script), Keralino Sandrovich (Stage play)
Starring: Yo Oizumi, Eiko Koike, Ai Hashimoto, Tae Kimura, Nobue Iketani, Asami Mizukawa, Yoji Tanaka, Gaku Hamada, Yutaka Matsushige,
This film can best be described with the phrase, “less than the sum of its parts,”
By no means awful, Farewell: Comedy of Life Begins with A Lie fails to live up to expectations.
The elements were all there for a promising screwball comedy.
It finds its origins in an unfinished work by Osamu Dazai that was turned into a stageplay by Keralino Sandrovich of absurdist comedy Crime or Punishment?!? fame.
Director Izuru Narushima has a filmography stacked with solid titles, the best being Rebirth (2011). Scriptwriter Satoko Okudera, who has worked with Narushima previously, has a fine selection of other titles rich with emotions like Summer Wars (2009) and The Wolf Children (2012).
There is a cast to DIE for with affable-to-the-point-of-attractive and very smooth-talking leading man Yo Oizumi taking the lead as a philandering fool with a bevy of beauties played by some of the most talented actresses currently working, including Tae Kimura (Starfish Hotel, Zero Focus), Ai Hashimoto (The Kirishima Thing), and Asami Mizukawa (A Beloved Wife). Plus Yutaka Matsushige and Gaku Hamada are on hand to provide ample support. Most promisingly, Eiko Koike, a thoroughly underused thesp was reprising her role from the theatre version. With so much talent, it was a surprise that the final result is so underwhelming.
The story takes place in post-war Japan, a nation transforming itself and shedding its old identity. As part of this, the locales are the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s black markets and the more dignified air of editorial rooms of literary magazines. They soon crash together in an unlikely way through the meeting of two people from those two different worlds for a very sordid reason that promises comedy gold.
What incites this meeting is a letter sent by a girl in a refugee camp to her rich magazine editor father, a effete man named Shuji Tajima (Yo Oizumi). After reading the letter this rather diffident but surprisingly effective womaniser finally resolves to end his philandering ways and bring his wife Shizue (Tae Kimura) and child to Tokyo to live with him. On the advice of his friend Urushiyama (Yasutaka Matsushige), he decides to break things off with all ten (TEN!!!!) of his mistresses by hiring a woman to play his spouse. He finds his ideal candidate ina run-down neighbourhood where he stumbles upon Kinuko (Eiko Koike) whom he spies taking a shower and changing from her rags into a dress. Perhaps he thinks she is merely a pan-pan girl who can easily be bought. She soon proves to be more than he bargained for as he discovers she has the chops to rule the black market.
The central highlight of the film, Eiko Koike gives an entertainingly forthright and larger-than-life performance as Kinuko, a working-class woman who is avaricious and knows what she is worth. Coarse, straight-talking (with a wonderfully gravelly voice), and with a sly sense of humour, rather than just being a prop for Tajima’s plot she takes him for all he is worth and proves to be more macho and smarter than him as she breaks gender stereotypes with glorious gusto. At her most audacious, she proves to be physically strong and gets involved in eyebrow-raising knock-down drag-out fights where she tosses furniture and men aside. The film finds its most consistent humour with her, especially when we get this salt-of-the-earth woman tries to play the genteel lady in front of the mistresses and Kinuko’s rough ways come out – the contrast between the beautiful visage and her gruff voice uttering platitudes never ceased to be funny.
Less amusing was Tajima and his interactions with others.
Despite Oizumi’s best attempts at making Tajima likeable, he is battling characterisation that is a cross between curmudgeon and creep, a willing pervert at times, mostly a weak-willed accidental lothario wasting everyone’s time – especially his wife and child who are stuck in a refugee camp while he lives in luxury in Tokyo(!!!). He has no character arc that allows him to grow beyond these base elements and so he never becomes someone we can root for, and isn’t particularly likeable and so it is a genuine struggle to understand why women fall for him. Consequently, Kinuko’s late romantic interest and actions feel contrived and their predictable romantic union unsatisfying.
As for the other women, there is a collection of top-flight actresses to play his lovers but all are under-exploited with little screen time given over to them. They do add some liveliness and definition to their two-dimensional characters but ultimately remain comic props rather than fully realised characters. A scene or two showing Tajima’s romantic prowess or how his financial largesse helps them survive in the post-war period might have alleviated this complaint and added extra dimensions that drew my interest more strongly.
Just as the writing is lacking, the presentation is also flat. The period setting is established effectively with a narrator and newsreel footage before transitioning to the story proper via a change in aspect ratio and the implementation of sepia-tinged colour. From there on the rest of the presentation is rather televisual with uninspired sets and nothing that justifies a cinema screen. Music sometimes goes AWOL at crucial times which allows the meaning of a scene to go awry: probably the biggest example is the scene where Tajima is a voyeur spying on Kinuko showering. Silence pervades the score as we watch his lecherous eye wander around her naked body and it comes off as pervy and sets us against him almost immediately.
The lack of energy has consequences for the comedic nature of the film but the fundamental problems comes with the writing. It was hard to care all that much about characters beyond Kinuko and a subplot for a supporting character, Kiyokawa (Gaku Hamada) – one of Tajima’s underlings, promises some light satire of consumer culture as he gets rich and tries to become a ladies man like his boss but it feels tacked on rather than meaningfully adding to Tajima’s story. Effective presentation might have created a fun film fizzing with passion and humour that would have lifted some underwritten characters, effectively turning it into a confection, but without that energy we are left with cardboard cut-outs and a story it is hard to care about.
This film might work for others but it did not work for me. But maybe I am being too harsh. What does work is Eiko Koike and I had a lot of fun watching her performance here and she really does light up the screen and I want to see her in more leading roles rather than just playing support. I could watch an entire film based on the adventures of Kinuko, sans Tajima.