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Friday, May 13, 2011

'Okike no Tanoshii Ryoko: Shinkon Jigoku-hen (The Oki Family's Fun Trip: Newlywed Hell)'

In Japan, marriage takes you to hell and back


What is marriage, anyway? Whatever it is for you personally, it traditionally starts with that brief delirium of carefree joy and erotic delight called a honeymoon. But these days, with more couples marrying after years of living together, honeymoons are becoming just another excuse for a trip, exotic locale and excitement optional.

Okike no Tanoshii Ryoko: Shinkon Jigoku-hen (The Oki Family's Fun Trip: Newlywed Hell) Rating: (4 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
Honeymoon's over: "Okike no Tanoshii Ryoko: Shinkon Jigoku-hen" ("The Oki Family's Fun Trip: Newlywed Hell") (c) EIGA "OKIKE NO TANOSHII RYOKO" SEISAKU IINKAI

Director: Ryuichi Honda
Running time: 121 min.
Language: Japanese
Opens May 14, 2011
[See Japan Times movie listing]

In Ryuichi Honda's offbeat new comedy, "Okike no Tanoshii Ryoko: Shinkon Jigoku-hen" ("The Oki Family's Fun Trip: Newlywed Hell"), ennui with newlywed life is the dilemma facing Saki (Asami Mizukawa) and Nobuyoshi Oki (Yutaka Takenouchi) — a couple who have married and moved to a new apartment, but long ago lost that romantic fizz and pop.

Based on a novel by hot playwright, TV scriptwriter and author Shiro Maeda, "Oki" has what must be the all-time strangest premise for a romantic comedy: The title couple decide to spend their honeymoon in hell, or rather Maeda and Honda's concept of it. This has little to do with Dante's underworld of eternal punishment, more to do with local folk traditions and its creators' formidable imaginations.

At the same time, the film is less a voyage to a scary nightmare world, more a surprise-packed excursion into a bizarre but somehow familiar land, where some of the inhabitants still feel longing, loneliness and other entirely human emotions even though they are no longer among the earthly living.

It starts, though, as the latest in a lengthening line of quirky Japanese comedies. Saki and Nobuyoshi are desultorily sorting out their stuff in their new place when they notice that their rice cooker has gone missing — and begin a low-key quarrel over who is responsible. Shopping later in a neighborhood supermarket, Saki notices a strange, skulking man (Akira Emoto) with what looks like their rice cooker under his soggy trench coat. She tries to follow him but he mysteriously disappears — and she ends up at the booth of an elderly fortune teller (Kirin Kiki) and her mannish assistant (Hairi Katagiri), who may not know the whereabouts of the cooker but are promoting a one-night, two-day tour of hell.

Let's just say that Saki and Nobuyoshi are intrigued — and bored — enough to sign up. Let's also just say that the hell they visit is probably not like the one you've imagined, unless your idea of the Bad Place is an underdeveloped, slagheap part of the world where the natives come in two colors and categories: the reds, who have short tempers and babble nonsense, and the blues, who are mainly well-mannered and coherent but have their own (to outsiders) peculiarities. The Devil and his demons, meanwhile, are nowhere in sight.

The Okis encounter both types on their journey, including Yoshiko (Ai Hashimoto), a blue-skinned teenage girl who drives them out of a spot of trouble in her beatup car, and Iijima (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa), a blue hotel staffer assigned to Japanese guests, who is at once excruciatingly polite and exceedingly strange.

Presented with this odd setup, the average director would immediately go over the top in everything from the bickering to the comic chase scenes. Honda, whose credits include the 1960s retro comedy "GS Wandarando (GS Wonderland)" (2008), takes a quieter, drier, slower-paced tack. Even the Okis' arguments are languid affairs, while their usual response to the weirdness en route is to take it in their stride, if with curiosity (and the occasional scream) rather than a shrug.

Both Takenouchi and Mizukawa appear far more often on the small screen than the big one, but as the Okis they little resemble the typical TV drama comic couple, with their manga-esque overreactions. Instead, their rhythm is naturally relaxed, but somehow funnier for it.

Also, the film takes on serious themes with a light but sure touch, while making its points with a delicate poignancy and not a whiff of sentimentalism (or sulfur, for that matter).

Marriage, we see, is less about honeymoon thrills than connection and communication. And hell, it turns out, is one heck of a conversation starter.

Hell also, we see, has its advantages for vacationers that the natives can't share, from terrific bargains to the return ticket home. It's hardly fair — but that's the afterlife for you.

Okike no Tanoshii Ryoko: Shinkon Jigoku-hen (The Oki Family's Fun Trip: Newlywed Hell)

Rating:

Director: Ryuichi Honda Running time: 121 minutes Language: Japanese

Reviewed by Mark Schilling

opens may 14

What is marriage, anyway? Whatever it is for you personally, it traditionally starts with that brief delirium of carefree joy and erotic delight called a honeymoon. But these days, with more couples marrying after years of living together, honeymoons are becoming just another excuse for a trip, exotic locale and excitement optional.

In Ryuichi Honda's offbeat new comedy, "Okike no Tanoshii Ryoko: Shinkon Jigoku-hen" ("The Oki Family's Fun Trip: Newlywed Hell"), ennui with newlywed life is the dilemma facing Saki (Asami Mizukawa) and Nobuyoshi Oki (Yutaka Takenouchi) — a couple who have married and moved to a new apartment, but long ago lost that romantic fizz and pop.

Based on a novel by hot playwright, TV scriptwriter and author Shiro Maeda, "Oki" has what must be the all-time strangest premise for a romantic comedy: The title couple decide to spend their honeymoon in hell, or rather Maeda and Honda's concept of it. This has little to do with Dante's underworld of eternal punishment, more to do with local folk traditions and its creators' formidable imaginations.

At the same time, the film is less a voyage to a scary nightmare world, more a surprise-packed excursion into a bizarre but somehow familiar land, where some of the inhabitants still feel longing, loneliness and other entirely human emotions even though they are no longer among the earthly living.

It starts, though, as the latest in a lengthening line of quirky Japanese comedies. Saki and Nobuyoshi are desultorily sorting out their stuff in their new place when they notice that their rice cooker has gone missing — and begin a low-key quarrel over who is responsible. Shopping later in a neighborhood supermarket, Saki notices a strange, skulking man (Akira Emoto) with what looks like their rice cooker under his soggy trench coat. She tries to follow him but he mysteriously disappears — and she ends up at the booth of an elderly fortune teller (Kirin Kiki) and her mannish assistant (Hairi Katagiri), who may not know the whereabouts of the cooker but are promoting a one-night, two-day tour of hell.

Let's just say that Saki and Nobuyoshi are intrigued — and bored — enough to sign up. Let's also just say that the hell they visit is probably not like the one you've imagined, unless your idea of the Bad Place is an underdeveloped, slagheap part of the world where the natives come in two colors and categories: the reds, who have short tempers and babble nonsense, and the blues, who are mainly well-mannered and coherent but have their own (to outsiders) peculiarities. The Devil and his demons, meanwhile, are nowhere in sight.

The Okis encounter both types on their journey, including Yoshiko (Ai Hashimoto), a blue-skinned teenage girl who drives them out of a spot of trouble in her beatup car, and Iijima (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa), a blue hotel staffer assigned to Japanese guests, who is at once excruciatingly polite and exceedingly strange.

Presented with this odd setup, the average director would immediately go over the top in everything from the bickering to the comic chase scenes. Honda, whose credits include the 1960s retro comedy "GS Wandarando (GS Wonderland)" (2008), takes a quieter, drier, slower-paced tack. Even the Okis' arguments are languid affairs, while their usual response to the weirdness en route is to take it in their stride, if with curiosity (and the occasional scream) rather than a shrug.

Both Takenouchi and Mizukawa appear far more often on the small screen than the big one, but as the Okis they little resemble the typical TV drama comic couple, with their manga-esque overreactions. Instead, their rhythm is naturally relaxed, but somehow funnier for it.

Also, the film takes on serious themes with a light but sure touch, while making its points with a delicate poignancy and not a whiff of sentimentalism (or sulfur, for that matter).

Marriage, we see, is less about honeymoon thrills than connection and communication. And hell, it turns out, is one heck of a conversation starter.

Hell also, we see, has its advantages for vacationers that the natives can't share, from terrific bargains to the return ticket home. It's hardly fair — but that's the afterlife for you.



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