The Workhorse and the Bigmouth ばしゃ馬さんとビッグマウス (2013) Director: Keisuke Yoshida

The Workhorse and the Bigmouth     The Workhorse and the Big Mouth Film Poster

ばしゃ馬さんとビッグマウス  「Basaumasan to Biggumausu」

Release Date: November 02nd, 2013

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Keisuke Yoshida

Writer: Keisuke Yoshida, Ryo Nishihara

Starring: Kumiko Aso, Shota Yasuda, Yoshinori Okada, Maho Yamada, Yutaka Shimizu, Yoko Akino, Jun Inoue, Yoneko Matsukane

Website     IMDB

Contrary to the optimistic messages that films often sell audiences, dreams don’t always come true no matter how hard you work. The lesson learned by the two protagonists in The Workhorse and the Bigmouth, a dramedy about wannabe writers trying to make it in the movies, is that one has to be realistic.

The titular workhorse is Michiyo Mabuchi (Kumiko Aso), a 34-year-old woman who is single and works in a kinken shop (金券ショップ ticket reseller). She has dedicated herself to the art of writing and has written screenplays consistently since graduating from university and has consistently failed to break into the film world despite attending workshops and classes, entering competitions, networking, and knowing all of the technical aspects of screenwriting.

The bigmouth is Yoshimi Tendo (Shota Yasuda), a 20-something loafer with dyed-blonde hair who works as a chef in a fast-food joint. He spends more time daydreaming about movie-writing fame than trying to achieve it. He loves the attention he gets when he says he is a writer and bragging about his ambitions but putting in the work is another matter.

The two are a chalk-and-cheese pair who meet in a screenwriting class in downtown Osaka and both are desperate to make it and so they enter a competition launched by a Tokyo-based TV channel. While audiences might expect a romance of the “opposites attract” variety to happen, the story resists going the obvious route.

The Workhorse and Big Mouth Kumiko Aso and Shota Yasuda

The Workhorse and the Bigmouth was the first of two feature films that director Keisuke Yoshida released in 2013, coming a month before his coming-of-age drama My Little Sweet Pea which was released in December. While not as emotionally affecting, it works as a gentle mature comedy with life lessons because Michiyo and Yoshimi are two individually well-realised characters who compliment each other. Beyond the mismatched-duo comedy it plies, a dramatic core shows how the mixing of their different approaches to life works as a catalyst for their grow over the course of their class so that they can see beyond films.

She is diligent and realistic whereas he is not. He is a big dreamer who can boost confidence while she is slowly losing sight of her motivation. What both share is a misguided addiction to their dream and the question for both is how to achieve it. Interestingly, and quite maturely, the film moves beyond the chasing of the dream to showing the tenacity it demands and the toll it takes.

By their nature, dreams are static and so while the characters change as they influence each other – and there are upbeat montages as the two scribble away – Yoshimi has to dig deep and stop lazing around and takes on advice to write what he knows. Meanwhile Michiyo, the poster-child of determination, reassesses her level of commitment to the profession of writing. The wrong side of 30, with ageing parents, and while friends around her are getting married, she has a fascinating and surprising epiphany that is organically reached through the many stories of the supporting characters.

Starring Kumiko Aso (Pulse, License to Live) and pop-star-turned-actor Shota Yasuda (Kanjani Eight), audiences will find the characters are multifaceted enough to maintain interest and they are easy to relate to thanks to the actors.

The Workhorse and the Big Mouth Kumiko Aso

Aso is convincing as a determined writer. Her bespectacled face shines with intelligence and observance while her casual costumes amusingly mask the intense work ethic with which she approaches writing: constantly penning notes and tapping away on her laptop and learning material via experience. Interestingly, her experience has fostered a haughty attitude when dealing with others, especially young Yoshimi, and this leads to cringe-comedy moments as she has an array of waspish put-downs like, “he is confusing himself with a genius.”

Michiyo’s writerly haughtiness, hard-earned from hundreds of hours of study and screenplays scribed – shown from the stacks she leafs through – also leads to her own downfall at times as she struggles to meet her outsized expectations of success. And so, after spending time building her character up, Aso can make an audience stop laughing and get misty-eyed as she lets that confident attitude collapse to expose tear-fuelled frustration. Thus the film can transition itself into a drama when it goes beyond her friendly duel with Yoshimi and enters into passages when it comes time for Michiyo to reckon with how little she has to show for her efforts.

Yasuda has a slightly easier time with a character who is a visually garish – those costumes and that hair! – and verbally loud presence – that Kansai-ben! – and he proves to be a good foil in this double-act. He oozes overconfidence and incompetence born from an outsize imagination and a streak of laziness as seen in multiple scenes wherein his best efforts yield a mound of cigarette butts in an ash tray and a Word document that would be blank if not for a grandiose title introducing him as the man who will change history of cinema.

The Workhorse and Big Mouth Shota Yasuda

There’s a sly reference to cinema history with a Ozu/Chigasakikan sequence where Yoshimi secrets himself in a traditional inn to attempt his own but the anticlimactic results are laughter-fuel. Despite his failings, we like him. Yasuda retains a good-natured aura to give his character a cheeky schoolboy charm.

As a general rule to most of these sorts of films, one would consider love to be the ultimate win, the simple fix, or a great motivator. However, this isn’t the case here. Both characters genuinely like each other but pursue writing for very personal reasons unconnected to one another.

The film has a pleasing motivational montages and we get a sense that they grow as artists and as people. However, it doesn’t shy away from showing how writing can be a lonely and frustrating art to pursue and the fortunes of side characters show how it can even be exploitative. There are setbacks and moments of despair to be found amidst the comedy but the story affords all of the characters respect and so these moments are challenges that Michiyo and Yoshimi meet. While each one may not get that Hollywood ending we expect, however misguided they may appear, they do not seem foolish. Instead, they mature enough to be realistic so that their all-consuming passion for films doesn’t consume their lives and that is a win of sorts.

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