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Friday, Sept. 4, 2009

'Killer Virgin Road'

A girl's guide to failing at love and destruction


Are most single women obsessed with marriage despite their protests to the contrary? Disappointed in love, do they fall to insecure pieces, taking solace in late-night cartons of ice cream?

Killer Virgin Road Rating: (3.5 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
On the move: Yoshino Kimura takes Juri Ueno for a ride in a scene from "Killer Virgin Road." © 2009 "KILLER VIRGIN ROAD" SEISAKU IINKAI

Director: Goro Kishitani
Running time: 97 minutes
Language: Japanese
Opens Sept. 12, 2009
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Noxious stereotypes, you say, disproved by countless counterexamples. But what to make of a pop culture phenomenon like "Bridget Jones's Diary" — the founding text of chick lit? Is it re-enforcing these stereotypes — or harmlessly supplying a few cathartic laughs, while assuring its audience that you don't have to be Miss Perfect to find Mr. Right?

Whatever you think of "Bridget" and its many imitators, the 2001 film starring Renee Zellweger is a conventional Hollywood rom-com, whose ending (big clinch) is about as predictable as the eventual outcome of Bridget's latest diet (big disappointment).

Actor Goro Kishitani has found a wildly different take on the genre in his directorial debut — "Killer Virgin Road." Scripted by Izumi Kawasaki, this black comedy has much in common with "Kiraware Matsuko" ("Memories of Matsuko," 2006), Tetsuya Nakashima's candy-colored, all-stops-out drama about a woman whose life goes down the tubes — but never loses her faith in love.

That is, it's a slapstick road movie that tries to deliver an emotional punch while shining rays of hope on its female target audience. But though it swings and misses as a tearjerker, it connects as a comedy, with a hurtling thrill-ride pace and a riot of gags, from the head- scratchingly odd to the laugh-till-you-gag original. It also has two of Japan's best comic actresses — Juri Ueno and Yoshino Kimura — working together at the top of their respective forms.

Hiroko (Ueno), has spent most of her 25 years failing at everything — her schoolyard nickname was "Biriko" (Last Place Girl), but is finally set to marry the man of her dreams: the rich, handsome, charming Kenichi (Daisuke Maki). On the day before her wedding, however, she accidentally kills her scraggly-haired landlord (Yasufumi Terawaki) — and discovers he has been peeping on her for who knows how long.

Making her escape with the landlord in her suitcase, she drives to a forest near Mount Fuji, where she plans to park the body and, after her big day, turn herself in to the police. There she runs into Fukuko (literal meaning: "Lucky Girl") (Yoshino Kimura) or, more accurately, Fukuko drops in on her, together with a broken tree branch, after failing to hang herself. As she explains in a musical number, which she performs together with her former boyfriends, Fukuko has never been lucky in love — or her many attempts at suicide. "I can't die!" she complains.

Fukuko offers to help Hiroko dispose of the corpse — if Hiroko will help Fukuko become a corpse herself. Hiroko is appalled by this quid pro quo, but before the negotiations go much farther, the two women learn they are not alone in the forest.

Soon they are on the run from a menacing motorcycle gang and a frantic young cop on a bicycle. They survive encounters with both, but they haven't seen the last of these characters — or various other strange types. Their race to the altar is only beginning.

The arc of the story shouldn't be hard to guess from here. What are the odds that a rom-com heroine won't make her wedding date? But "Killer" has a twist not often seen in Hollywood: Hiroko is in a mad rush since she wants her beloved grandfather (Soichiro Kitamura), now in failing health, to see her in a wedding dress before he dies. Beyond a few brief flashbacks, though, the film does little to develop this relationship.

More important, dramatically, is the bond that grows between Hiroko and Fukuko. They may be totally different types — ditzy Innocence and jaded Experience — but the women click as fellow losers in life's lottery.

Playing this duo, Ueno and Kimura are on same loopy wavelength, charging each other up to ever greater heights of absurdity. Though neither are professional comedians, both have sharp comic instincts and on screen seem to bond naturally as friends and coconspirators.

"Killers" is to the female buddy movie what "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was to the male version: a charmer that is really more about the by-play between the two principals than the ginned-up plot. They don't jump off a cliff together, hand in hand, but they do bond riding — I'll be brief here — a suitcase. What does the title mean? "Killer" refers to Hiroko, "Virgin Road" is Japanese-English for the bride's walk down the aisle. "A Killer's Wedding" is one, rather boring, way of translating it. "A Killer Comedy," though, is more descriptive.


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