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Fine, Totally Fine

Zenzen daijobu (Fine, totally fine) - Yosuke Fujita (2008)

I have to say up front that I'm not a big fan of Asian comedies. There are very few that have actually managed to make me laugh which is why I felt compelled to write something about what is probably the best thing to come out of Japan since Taste of tea. Japanese comedies are usually either outrageously over the top slapstick (which more often than not simply doesn't work) or the quiet, awkward comedies that make you laugh out of sheer embarrassment. Fine, totally fine falls in the latter category and is a surprisingly accomplished debut feature from the 45 year old Yosuke Fujita. It revolves around 3 central characters; Teuro, a soon to turn 30 manual landscape worker with a passion for scaring people, his friend Hisanobu, the far too nice hospital administrator and Akari, the clumsy, inept artist whom Hisanobu tries to employ and eventually falls for. There's also Teuro's father, a listless bookshop owner in the midst of a midlife crisis.

The majority of the film's humor comes from Teuro, played by the perpetually type-cast as the overgrown baby YosiYosi Arakawa. Up till now his task has been to provide comic relief in supporting roles (I've seen him in the dreadful Survive style 5 and Memories of Matsuko, both comedies of which he was pretty much the highlight) so this is his first film in the lead and he pulls it off with great success. Finally the extended screen time has allowed him to develop his character, a boy trapped in a man's body and forced by his friends to try and take life more seriously (at which he naturally fails miserably). The only thing that bothered me a little was Akari's character which was just a little too similar to the "heroine" of Memories of Matsuko. Thankfully, Fujita never allows her to veer too much into the pathetic self-deprecation which pretty much destroyed Matsuko for me.

The film has won the top prize at the biggest Japanese film festival in the world, the Nippon Connection in Frankfurt, the audience award at the New York Asian film festival and the Japan film angel prize for new scriptwriters. Unsurprisingly, because it really is a breath of fresh air and hopefully a sign of good things to come from Japan this year.