In the “wild smalltown drama” tradition of Shohei Immamura’s The Eel and Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris, debuting director Daihachi Yoshida’s Funuke… is a quirky feast of fun.
Broadly played, but never stumbling into pantomime mugging, it switches between melodrama, chuckles and unnerving madness during a swift, eventful 112 minutes.
Teasing out character jealousies and bitterness in well-placed flashbacks, the film has a memorably self-deluding monster in Sumika (Sato), a pretty no-talent actress who has spent four fruitless in Tokyo and races back for the inheritance before her parents’ mangled bodies have cooled.
Sumika has an old score to settle with younger wallflower step-sister Kiyomi (Satsukawa), a talented artist who years earlier put her sisters shriekings into a horror comic that then swept the town.
Attempting to keep the peace is Sumika’s step-brother, the brusque Shinji (Nagase), who spends his time joylessly belittling his uber-happy wife Machiko (the excellent Nagasaku).
As Sumika waits for the money to arrive, she strikes up a penpal friendship with a famous film director, who promises her the lead in his new movie…
Yoshida’s greatest trick here is persuading the audience Funuke... isn’t a horror movie. Machiko’s unwavering good cheer in the face of a near blinding soup incident or Sumika’s recollection of the world’s worst audition guarantee laughs.
But, in this isolated village with no mobile phone reception, the family are subject to Sumika’s rage, Shinji quietly fumes as long kept promises come to light, and Machiko fashions creepy child-substitutes from straw and buttons. And Kiyomi is being lured once more to the biographical delights of horror comics.
Crisply shot with visual flourishes punctuating the unfussy direction, despite a lack of carnage, this is an accomplished and impressive depiction of some absolute barnpots. Those who like their laughs lightly flavoured with ash should check it out.