Party 7 Review
Miki (Masatoshi Nagase) is a small-time crook, who’s decided to abandon his fellow gangsters because he feels he no longer has a suitable future there. Taking with him a few million in yen, he flees to the relatively unknown Hotel New Mexico, located in the countryside. But his sense of security is short-lived when his travel agent auntie (Yoneko Matsukane) betrays his location to a string of pursuers. Soon Miki is greeted at the hotel by his former girlfriend Kana (Akemi Kobayashi), to whom he owes a considerable amount of cash to, while she has been tracked down by her gadget expert fiancé Todohira (Yoshinori Okada). Things finally erupt with the arrival of Miki’s friend Sonoda (Keisuke Horibe), who has been ordered by his boss to kill Miki and bring home the money he stole. But when Sonoda learns of his own boss’ betrayal he soon begins to question himself whether or not his time is well spent with the clan.
Unbeknownst to the recently re-acquainted as they argue amongst themselves, however, the hotel is a peeping tom’s paradise, governed by the mysterious Captain Banana (Yoshio Harada), who has constructed a secret base of operations adjacent to Miki’s quarters. He’s soon joined by a young man named Okita (Tadanobu Asano): a hopelessly addicted and multiple convicted peeping tom, who suffers from painful childhood memories and is the perfect foil for Banana’s nefarious schemes in keeping the peeping tradition alive. When Banana informs Okita that he once knew his father, the pair reach a kind of bond - but soon a series of events will dictate a very unusual outcome. Matters aren’t helped a great deal when a toy-collecting, trigger-happy assassin by the name of Wakagashi (Tatsuya Gashuin) is in hot pursuit, ready to unleash his arsenal on the unsuspecting runaways. You can be sure that at the Hotel New Mexico, nothing is quite how it seems.
Being the specialist label that they are, Synapse’s desire to pick up Party 7 stems from its instantly zany cult status, rather than approachability with regards to the director’s current oeuvre. Katsuhito Ishii - a graduate of television commercials and short animation - has but only a handful of feature films under his belt, but since his 1998 hit debut Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl (subsequently based upon the manga by Minetaro Mochizuki) he’s gone on to prove himself as a director who doesn’t bow easily to convention. The closest he’s ever come to making some sort of sense is with his aforementioned debut and his third feature Cha no Aji [The Taste of Tea], while as a writer his most accessible piece is without a doubt the equally mature teen angst comedy/drama Frog River (directed by Hajime Ishimine) - a huge departure from what we had already come to expect. These are films with some semblance of narrative flow, though true to form they exhibit Ishii’s natural flare for surreal visualisation and cartoon-ish adventurism. Ishii’s very much a director with dozens of good ideas, therefore pouring as many as he can into each outing by adopting his preferred method of short-length formatting, which often follows a non-linear path. In some cases it can tend to be his undoing, however, as he prioritizes oddball set-ups over sensible storytelling, which ultimately affects the pacing of his movies; it‘s something which no matter how much of a fan you may be, as I consider myself personally, seems to have only gotten more out of control over time. His most recent live-action work: Nice no Mori [First Contact/The Funky Forest] - an experiment stemming from Cha no Aji’s leftover budget it seems - being a staggeringly long 150 minutes’ worth of strange, incidental sketches which simply have to be experienced, rather than discussed. This trait of his, then, tends to divide audiences by a substantial margin, and in all honesty I can see why. He’s a director for those with a lot of patience and an acquired taste in surrealism.
Released in 2000, Party 7 - his second film - came out to fairly high expectations, with Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl having been one of the highest grossing films in Japan of 1998. But it didn’t do amazing numbers; Tohokushinsha hurriedly got it out on DVD in the same year, after a limited theatrical release, and from there it’s garnered its own little cult reputation. It’s also one of Ishii’s more difficult pieces to comprehend. Much like the aforementioned Nice no Mori, Party 7 doesn’t get by so much on the set-up, but rather the interaction of its characters and a winding series of events that share loose connections. There’s a feeling deep down that his stories exhibit some kind of social context and have an emotional pull to them, though his efforts to touch upon humanity in general can prove to be all but fleeting excursions, whilst the desire to present cool and quirky characters is all too evident. Certainly in the case of Party 7 he often comes close to delivering bouts of poignancy, but he’s all too quick to hold himself back and not tackle a particular issue or a character’s place to any large degree, which is actually quite refreshing from a certain perspective. To be perfectly honest though, the only character he ever tries to flesh out here is that of Okita, whose unhealthy perversions form the basis for several lengthy transitions, consisting of childhood flashbacks and Captain Banana’s unruly attempts at justifying his actions. Whether or not it’s Ishii’s intent to open discussions regarding the voyeuristic society we seem to be living in today is something that only he seems to know about, but the darker undercurrents lining these moments certainly provide the basis for thought. As such though it’s more an ambiguous plot device which allows the populated cast to eventually come together, whereby their own flaws are each brought to light during a maddening series of exchanges as they struggle to realize just what it is exactly that they’ve managed to walk into.
The story itself does follow a basic pattern: Miki steals money from a Yakuza boss, flees to a fledging hotel in the middle of nowhere, and is then chased down by the boss’s hit-men. Once there events escalate beyond unbelievable coincidence; panic sets in and we end up with an explosion of unlikely mishaps, fuelled by screeching voices. Ishii’s initial approach is pleasantly sedated, though soon we see the pacing issues start to form. For instance the opening act begins with a conversation between Kanji Tsuda’s pathological desk clerk and Yoshiyuki Morishita’s goofy bellboy about an urban legend concerning a poo that fell out of the sky and impacted a small rural village just out of town. It has no purpose other than to provide a comical payoff during the film’s closing credits - which admittedly is very funny. Following on from this is a fantastically animated opening sequence, which eventually settles down, and it soon becomes clear during the following couple of scenes that this is how Party 7 is going to remain: an inconsistently bumpy ride. Ishii’s sense of humour and pacing lacks all known restraint, with the director keeping scenes going for seemingly indefinite amounts of time, many lasting 5 minutes upward with little cutting between, thus lending a freestyle attitude as if the film was winging it. It’s certainly admirable that at least Ishii can hold our attention and make us laugh over the most mundane of conversations and sudden character outbursts. Highlights include Captain Banana’s “Top Ten Peeps”, Miki and Morishita’s wig incident and the childish bickering between Kana, Miki, Todohira and Sonoda in such a confined space, but it only goes to showcase just how much of a mash-up things really are as it eventually approaches a manic finale, filled with much confusion and killer polar bears.
Yet most of Party 7 works considerably well on account of its fun and extremely colourful cast, many of whom are regular players in Ishii’s films. Notable exceptions are Yoshio Harada as the ‘eccentric’ Capt. B; Masatoshi Nagase - effortlessly cool once more and looking like he just stepped out of Mystery Train - and the gorgeous, pouting Akemi Kobayashi who actually has little to do other than provide the eye candy in what is her debut appearance. But if we’re going to make distinctions then it’s Keisuke Horibe, previously of SSM&PHG who steals the show as the hopelessly gullible and pitiable yakuza member, duped by his own boss, who has bestowed upon him nothing but the worst clothing and accessory knock-offs in all of Japan; while Tadanobu Asano continues to avoid being pigeonholed by taking on a rather risky role in what would be the film’s most tragic character.
Basically we have similar artwork (only with a dodgier, photo-shoppy brick background) to that seen on the Japanese DVD release from 2000 and the poster campaign. It’s sure enough eye catching, but don't let it fool you into thinking that you’ll actually be seeing Akemi Kobayashi parade about in a silver bikini and hot pants at any stage.
Synapse appears to be using the same master that was put out on the Japanese release eight years ago. It looks nigh on identical and about as good as the film can possibly look, given its rather dingy location. Presented anamorphically in 1.85:1, Party 7 appears a little soft if nothing else, but not unusual for a Japanese production, though detail is nonetheless solid. Colours are vibrant when they can be; it’s only through particular locations, such as Captain Banana’s peep room that we’re shown just how good the transfer is. With a large portion of action taking place in low-lit hotel rooms the colour balance tends to drop and things looks generally darker. This is wholly intentional, however, as Ishii seeks to capture a certain mood, but contrast and depth is reasonably strong, so we have what looks to be an appropriate and faithful representation of the director’s vision. Below is a screen comparison between Synapse (R1 - top) and Tohokushinsha (R2 - bottom).
The Japanese DD 5.1 Surround mix is equally strong. While it won’t put your speakers out too much - especially considering that this is an awfully talky feature - it does occasionally offer the odd bombastic moment by the way of its soundtrack, and some of the more energetic moments across the final act. Dialogue is sharp and free from any distortion, making things nicely balanced across the board.
Optional English subtitles are included, and as best as I can tell they’re also based upon the original Japanese translation, which in itself was remarkably good. There doesn’t appear to be any grammatical flaws or timing errors.
Synapse has licensed some material from the original Japanese release of 2000, in addition to offering some exclusive and much welcomed material. First up is an Interview with Katsuhito Ishii (16.46) who discusses the genesis of the project; where he got his original idea from and how his characters came to be. He details the usual methods of approaching film, from making storyboard videos through to preparing the general look of a feature. During this he talks about trying to make his films visually pleasing, given that his plots are often absurd which usually ensures that he’s never approached to make “serious” movies. But he’s a humble man who seems quite surprised by the success his films have had, and while he acknowledges that Party 7 might have harmed his career, he clearly loves it and will always stick to his own principals.
The Making of Party 7 (20.40) is a little different from the norm in that it specifically focuses on each individual character. We’re taken through the principal cast one by one as each actor talks about their role and their experiences working with Ishii. In-between these moments we go behind the scenes which shows a fun set, where everyone is all too happy to go crazy for the cameras, along with telling the occasional story to one another.
Following on from this we have the original theatrical teaser, trailers 1 and 2 and TV Spots 1 and 2. Next up is an Alternate Ending. Lasting for about 3 minutes it’s little more than Kanji Tsuda and Yoshiyuki Morishita going back to the poo story in a scene that was meant to precede the final one, and you can certainly see why it was excised as very little seems necessary. Finally we have Ishii’s Storyboard Version of Party 7 (1.02.25). This is the original video storyboard that the director put together in order to visual his film. It’s interesting because not many directors use this method, over traditional storyboards, but Ishii likes to see everything play out in real time so that he can instantly tell if it’s going to be a film worth watching. It’s not essential viewing, but it’s nice to have all the same.
Party 7 is as equally frantic as it is lethargic. It’s therefore very difficult to recommend it to everyone, which is why my overall rating should be taken as a cautionary one. Fans of Katsuhito Ishii should fit right in and be entertained enough, while those unversed may wonder what the hell this man is doing making movies. Here we have a feature that’s hard to decipher; it’s not quite up there with the best of his limited output, but regardless of any shortcomings it might have it’s a wonderfully shot and fairly intimate production, and there’s no denying Ishii’s visual flair and general oddball mentality.
8 out of 10
8 out of 10
8 out of 10
7 out of 10