"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see Jeremy’s name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." — Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog
Review Date: October 25, 2009
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 4/29/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Okay, okay, not really... I’ve never exchanged one word with Tim Lucas in my life and as far as I know he is unaware of my writing. Replace my name with the name August Ramone and please visit here
to see his excellent kaiju blog where the above Lucas quote originated.
That being said, it is hard to argue with Lucas’ point – for all the ways that Japanese culture had become western oriented over the past hundred and fifty years, it is still an ancient society with a complex language very much unlike our own. While analyzing Japanese film on a general level may be simple, honing in on its finer points and how particular films represent Japanese culture requires someone with keen knowledge of that society. That somebody is not me, but I shall do my best for the following review.
The New Mexico Hotel is a forgotten establishment in rural Japan, slightly run down and staffed by some eccentric locals. Which is exactly what has attracted Miki (Masatoshi Nagase
), a member of the yakuza, to it. Carrying a silver briefcase he checks into a suite and, after a lengthy argument with the bellhop, finally gets some peace and quiet. But very quickly there is a knock on the door and he is confronted by his ex-girlfriend Kana (Akemi Kobayashi
), who has tracked him down. She once loaned him money and now she needs him to pay her back, though she won’t say why. Miki tries to put the moves on her but she resists his advances – she is getting married soon to a very rich man. But she says she cannot borrow the money from him.
Miki and Kana think they are alone, but the whole time they have been watched from a secret room with a viewing window. The hotel was built by the father of a young man named Okita (Tadanobu Asano
) who had brought disgrace to the family by getting arrested repeatedly for being a peeping tom. But on his death bed his father confessed that he was also a peeper and told him that in the hotel he had built a special room for peeping. Now Okita has found the room, and its surprising occupant – a middle aged man in a superhero suit who calls himself Captain Banana (Yoshio Harada
). He was a friend of Okita’s father and he often peeped in the room with him. Now he owns the hotel and uses the room often. The two sit down to watch the proceedings.
Kana’s geeky fiancée Todohira (Yoshinori Okada
) shows up next and him and Miki get in a fight. Then comes Miki’s brother and fellow yakuza member Sonoda (Keisuke Horibe
), sent to kill Miki for stealing 200 million yen from the syndicate. With the two voyeurs behind the wall this “party” now has six people, but the seventh is on his way in the form of hitman Wakagashi (Tatsuya Gashuin
), who is aiming to kill both Miki and Sonoda and recover the money!
is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes frustrating movie that finds much fertile ground to explore in the warped psyches of its characters, but which is also too long and drawn out to be a true comedic masterpiece. Writer/director Katsuhito Ishii should have called it quits when the film’s running time went past the ninety minute mark, but instead he keeps on trucking until the film’s total running time – and the total is important because he keeps on telling the story right through the ending credits – clocks in at a hundred and four minutes. Characters talk. And talk. And talk. Some scenes are so long and ponderous that they call to mind the more self indulgent works of Quentin Tarantino, who like Ishii seems to be in love with his own dialogue. Logistically the movie is near brilliant, with the bulk of the action taking place in just two rooms. It must have been relatively easy and cheap to make, but it starts to become claustrophobic.
The big problem that Ishhi runs into is that the film takes so long to decide what it’s going to be about. Only about thirty minutes in does an audience member really start to grasp the story that is being told and what these characters are doing at this hotel. The two voyeurs mostly function as a Greek chorus at first, but soon stop watching the main action and start talking to each other about themselves and their compulsion to peep, only to rejoin the action at the climax. The four other principal characters – the hitman doesn’t count because he doesn’t show up until the very end – are mostly stock personalities, yet they do have a believable humanity to them. They are in a clichéd situation, but their motivations and actions somehow manage to give credibility to it. The performances are mostly above average and wring some hearty laughs out of the script.
What makes Party 7
entertaining is in large part due to its wonderful sense of the absurd, particularly the scenes involving the two peepers. The room that they inhabit is in itself wonderful to behold, simple but elegant and seeming like something that one would be more likely to find in superhero comic book. In the world of that room a character like Captain Banana has reason to exist, and the Captain makes the point of telling Okita that with his normal street clothes he is the one out of place. The Captain’s attempts to force Okita into wearing a superhero suit made for his own father help lead to a hilarious climax where the two groups finally meet. It is here at the climax that director Ishii fails to provide a truly fulfilling ending to his story. He provides some closure to the events by explaining what really happened to the 200 million yen that everyone is after, but otherwise the action simply stops and as the end credits roll we follow the journey of a hotel employee on his way to investigate reports of shit falling out of the sky. This ties up a loose end from the very beginning, but, much to my chagrin, leaves many other loose ends still hanging.
is presented letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. The movie was shot on film but this progressive scan transfer looked so clean that for the first few minutes I was deceived into believing that it might have been shot digitally. There are a very few specks throughout the movie and the ending credits do show some noticeable damage to the film elements but overall this is one of the cleanest film to video transfers I have seen recently. The scenes shot in the peeping room look sharp and colorful while the scenes filmed in the other parts of the hotel have a somewhat softer appearance. These scenes use dimmer lighting and thus have a slightly murky appearance at many times, although black levels and shadow detail remain above average.
The only audio option is a Japanese language 5.1 Surround mix. This is a dialogue-driven film so don’t expect too much creative surround use, but the mix gets the job done and clearly reproduces the dialogue, sound effects and music without distortion and without any noticeable background noise.
Optional English subtitles are included.
Synapse has crammed a lot of extras (all likely ported over from a Japanese DVD release) onto this disc, and while none of them are stellar all of them have points of interest. There is a twenty-minute making-of featurette included that is loaded with behind the scenes footage and interviews captured on the fly with director Katsuhito Ishii and various members of the cast. Though presented without formal narrative structure and crudely shot on what was probably an analog video camera, the featurette is actually a lot of fun to watch.
Katsuhito Ishii is on hand for an interview that runs almost seventeen minutes. Sitting in a screening room with the Captain Banana costume in a seat behind him, Ishii talks about his initial conception of the plot and characters and tells how each of the seven principal actors became attached to the film (many had worked on or auditioned for his first feature, Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl
). He also shares his thoughts on film technique and the importance of storyboarding, which he places so much emphasis on that he literally creates video storyboards before he makes a movie!
A disappointing alternate ending is also included. I say disappointing because it doesn’t tie up the story or give any information about what happens to the main characters. The current ending ties up a loose story thread from the beginning where two hotel employees talk about shit falling from the sky. This alternate ending also ties up that plotline, but in a completely different way. Overall the ending that is used in the final cut is better though. The footage is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and is of poor quality.
Ishii's complete video storyboard of the movie is included as the last supplement of note. Running sixty-two minutes and shot on low quality video, it features a progression of still drawings (often very close to the shots in the finished movie) complete with dialogue and sound effects. Unfortunately there are no subtitles - although my remote control allowed me to turn on what appeared to be subtitles, I watched five minutes of the video without a single word of English popping up. It's certainly a unique supplement, but unless you understand Japanese I don't foresee you watching more than a few minutes.
The release is completed by a teaser trailer, two theatrical trailers and two TV spots.
is entertaining and unique...and also flawed. But not flawed enough for me refrain from recommending it, especially to Japanese film aficionados who will surely get a kick out of it. This DVD from Synapse looks great, sounds great and has plenty of extras for the curious. In other words, it's up to their usual ultra high standards.
Movie – B-
Image Quality – B+
Sound – A-
Supplements – B+
- Running Time – 1 hour 44 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Japanese 5.1 Surround
- English subtitles
- Making-of featurette
- Interview with Katsuhito Ishii
- Alternate ending
- Video storyboard version
- TV spots