Saturday, May 21, 2011

FILM REVIEW: "Cast Me If You Can," by Mark Donovan

Mark Donovan

 FILM REVIEW: "Cast Me If You Can," by Mark Donovan

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a cinematic figure that has existed for about five decades, though it has never been used as frequently as it has in the past 7 years.  
For those that do not know, the MPDG is a bit of cinematic wish fulfillment; a girl/woman who was put on this Earth to selflessly nurture the broken hearts of lonely men. The biggest surprise of Cast Me if You Can, a new romantic comedy from Japan, is finding out that the MPDG exists in other cultures, too.

Ah, but there is a difference. The MPDG in this case is almost an actual person. Her name is Aya, played by Hiromi Nagasaku, and she has problems of her own. She may be a master thespian, and very handy when it comes to disarming a thief using only a mop handle, and she may have an unflappable cheerfulness about her, but her love life isn’t going well. Her boyfriend/husband is seen walking out on her very early on, because he just can’t take her “energy”. She also works a dead end job at a convenience store, and, later in the film, gets evicted because her ex-boyfriend/ex-husband blows all of the rent money at a casino. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be an MPDG.

Then again, Aya is not the focus of the movie. The main story revolves around Hiroshi, the son of a famous playwright and supporting actor extraordinaire, who dreams of becoming a lead actor. Hiroshi is played by Toru Masuoka, essentially the Japanese equivalent of Steve Buscemi, who’s been acting for roughly 30 years, but always in a supporting role. In the film, Masuoka gets his chance to play the lead in “The Woody Allen Remake”- it is never mentioned which of Woody Allen’s films is being remade, but my money is on Curse of the Jade Scorpion- but sees his hopes dashed due to a false report that he is carrying on an affair with a married woman. The obvious real life parallels are not lost on director Atsushi Ogata. It is also one of many times in which Masuoka is mistaken for someone else- a running joke which leads to a few clever gags.

While writer/director Ogata doesn’t stray too far from the Romantic Comedy Playbook, he does add in a few fun set pieces, a couple interesting characters, and a world in which, while there are a few instances of humanity gone wrong, people tend to look after one another. The world may continue to be an imperfect place, but for 90 minutes those instances of imperfection are the exception, not the rule.

Back to the beginning; Masuoka, having just been fired, meets Nagasaku at a train station where a man is accosting her under the impression that she stole his wallet. Masuoka intervenes and somehow inherits a strange, chipper tag-along, who recognizes him as supporting actor then follows him around for an undisclosed period of time. For their “meet-cute”, Masuoka gives the impression that he’d rather be anywhere else but next to this odd girl, while Nagasaku remains cheerful as ever, giving advice about grapes and seeming star struck even though Masuoka is far from a “star”. It is an odd scene, which sets the tone for their romance. It isn’t exactly what would be expected out of a romantic comedy, even though it is clearly a romantic comedy. Cast Me never truly subverts the genre clichés, but it does its best to subtly alter them.

There are certainly Woody Allen-esque touches to the film, including a prolonged, caper-style bit where Masuoka tries to clear his name through stalking the woman whom he was supposedly having an affair, but those bits don’t add up to a whole. Though it may involve a few trapping of other genres or directors, those elements are just pieces of a whole. The film belongs to the singular vision of Ogata and co-writer Akane Shiratori.

It helps that Cast Me is stacked with noted Japanese thespians. Nearly every role in the film is played by a Japanese celebrity, down to even the tiniest of supporting roles. Hell, the father is played by Masahiko Tsugawa, the Cary Grant of Japanese cinema. If this were an American release it would be on par with the average summer blockbuster.

Early screenings of the film prove that it is quite the crowd pleaser. Anyone who is a fan of Japanese cinema, or a romantic comedy fan in general, should seek out this movie. It may not be a game changer, but it still makes for a fun time while it lasts.

Film website

Written by Mark Donovan
Editor: Rod Webber

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