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Old 10-20-2010, 08:03 PM
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Executive Koala




Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: October 20, 2010

Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 11/18/2008
MSRP: $24.95
Region 1, NTSC
Progressive Scan
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
2005


He’s got such cute eyes
He’s got gray fur
He’s a sweet thing
He’s a happy-go-lucky kind of guy
Restructuring, demotion
Nothing lets him down
Extramarital affairs, getting a divorce
The world is beautiful
Go, Executive Koala!


The Story

inline ImageKenichi Tamura is a salaryman at a Japanese pickle company. An up-and-coming executive, Tamura is currently masterminding a partnership with a South Korean company for kimchi. His boss is pleased with the idea and is clearly grooming Tamura for future leadership roles. Tamura has also been dating the beautiful Yoko, who he is madly in love with. Did I also mention that Kenichi Tamura happens to be a koala bear? And that his boss is a rabbit? And that the convenience store clerk down the street is a frog? And that everyone else is human? Despite his non-human status our protagonist seems to be riding high, with life going exactly how he wants it to...until one day at work he is visited by two police detectives, who tell him that Yoko has been brutally murdered. They haul him to the police station, clearly considering him a suspect, but he insists that he is innocent and refuses to confess. The cops put pressure on him, pointing out that his ex-wife disappeared three years ago and nobody has seen a trace of her since.

inline ImageFortunately for our hero, his boss does not hold him as a suspect and consoles him for his loss. He informs Tamura that the deal with the South Korean company is almost done and congratulates him. Not long afterwards two executives from the Korean firm arrive in Tokyo to seal the deal. One of them is a handsome young man named Kim who shows off his skill at martial arts. They sign the paperwork and the deal is complete, and afterwards Tamura takes them out on the town to celebrate. At a fancy nightclub Kim confronts him about a matter that is strictly personal between the two of them and has nothing to do with business. He tells Tamura that his disappeared wife was his lover once, and that shortly before she went missing she sent him a letter claiming that Tamura abused her, along with a photograph of her bruised face. Tamura can't believe it. He has no memories of ever abusing the woman he loved, but the photo and the letter appear to be authentic.

inline ImageSoon Tamura begins to suffer from terrible nightmares where he dreams that he is committing acts of brutal violence with an axe, slaughtering the people he knows. Unnerved by the dreams, he seeks out his psychiatrist, and is shocked to discover that his boss is also there waiting for him. They confess a horrible truth to him: he is actually the founder of the pickle company, and was its president until three years ago when he went crazy and murdered his wife. He asked his psychiatrist to erase the memories from his mind and his current boss - who back then was just an employee - to bury her body in the woods. Tamura is shocked. It's all so unbelievable. But is it true, or is somebody playing head games with our poor executive koala?

inline ImageExecutive Koala is unquestionably the best of the four Minoru Kawasaki films that I have seen in recent months. Unlike Monster X Strikes Back, it’s actually a good movie. Unlike The Rug Cop, it has a fully developed sense of the absurd that carries through every scene. And unlike The World Sinks Except Japan it has a budget that is appropriate for its storytelling ambitions. It is the movie where Kawasaki seems to have come the closest to the vision that he had at the story’s conception. And much of its success comes not from the absurd plot twists – entertaining as those may be – but from the fact that so much of it is essentially played straight, without overt comedy, ignoring the fact that our protagonist is a koala bear, a fact that has little relevance to the plot until the final scenes.

inline ImageIn terms of the raw story and plotline, Executive Koala bears a significant resemblance to the psychological thrillers that Hollywood likes to produce from time to time, films which feature a protagonist (usually a star at the very beginning or very end of their time on the A-list) who can’t be sure what’s real, and who has to put the pieces together while not knowing who he can trust. The world that’s presented to us audience members is one where animals are usually anthropomorphized and where it’s acceptable, even normal, for them to have careers alongside humans and even to have relationships with humans. Thus, the fact that Tamura is a koala bear is considered completely normal to everyone around him. Aside from some comments from the girls in the office about whether or not he’s furry in bed, and a quip from one of the detectives investigating Yoko’s murder, his nature as a koala bear is not really referenced during the early and middle portions of the film.

inline ImageWhat this accomplishes is to effortlessly turn Executive Koala into a surrealist masterpiece. We watch a man in a koala bear suit having pillow talk with a human woman. We see the man in the koala bear suit visit his psychiatrist and wonder aloud whether he could have committed acts of domestic violence. We see a man in a rabbit mask and business suit running a company. We see a man in a frog costume manning a convenience store counter and passing mysterious notes to a police detective. Much of what these characters do is utterly clichéd, and to have a human doing it would result in us quickly losing interest. By introducing this type of absurdity from the opening scene the moments which are intentionally out there – scenes of Tamura dreaming about sneaking into people’s houses and putting an axe through their faces – are also elevated, like giant mountains rising off of a high plateau. It’s crazy, it’s absurd, it’s unbelievable, and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Image Quality

inline ImageSynapse presents the film letterboxed at 1.78:1, and it is enhanced for 16x9 displays. This progressive scan transfer is good, if ultimately the weakest of three Minoru Kawasaki films that Don May has released. Executive Koala was shot in HD and the presentation is very clean and clear, but the low budget nature of the production is quite evident. Color saturation is excellent, but the transfer has a rather soft and slightly hazy appearance, with noticeable video noise in some darker shots. It’s a perfectly watchable presentation, but hardly reference quality.

Sound

inline ImageThe only audio option here is the film’s original Japanese 2.0 Stereo mix. It’s not too quiet, nor is it too loud. It’s the kind of track where you will not have to spend time fiddling with the remote after finding a comfortable volume. Music, dialogue and sound effects are reproduced clearly, without any background noise or distortion.

Optional English subtitles are included. The Kim character delivers his lines in Korean, and during these moments Japanese subtitles are also burned into the frame.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageThis DVD is not exactly heavy on special features, but it does contain an extremely lengthy “making-of” featurette that runs almost forty minutes. Shot on what looks to have been a consumer quality camcorder, the piece does not have a formal structure. It is simply a collection of behind the scenes footage and on-set interviews following the project’s history chronologically, starting with the fitting of the costumes for the actors, continuing through the very brief production and ending with its Japanese theatrical premiere. Along the way we get lots of interesting snippets of footage and interview fragments, although I found it hard to sit through the entire thing in one viewing. Still, it sure seems like it gives a pretty authoritative look at life on the set of Executive Koala.


inline Image inline Image inline Image


The only other extras are a theatrical trailer and a TV spot.

Final Thoughts

Executive Koala is a hilariously bizarre film, providing a unique window into the abnormal mind of Minoru Kawasaki. It is best of the three Kawasaki movies released by Synapse Films, although unfortunately it’s also the disc with the weakest transfer and the fewest supplements. But the movie works, and works beautifully for what it is, which is why, despite a relatively high MSRP, I can easily recommend this as a blind buy, even to viewers who are not necessarily fans of Japanese cult cinema.

Rating


.
Movie – B+

Image Quality – B-

Sound – B

Supplements – C+




Technical Info.
  • Running Time – 1 hour 26 minutes
  • Color
  • Not rated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • Japanese 2.0 Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • Burned-in Japanese subtitles over Korean dialogue

Supplements
  • “Making-of” featurette
  • Trailer
  • TV spot

Other Pictures

 

 

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