Executive Koala Review
Friendly koala to all - Tamura Keichi is just an average salary man trying to hold down a job within the stressful pickle industry. At ‘Rabource Pickling Co. Ltd’ he has come up with the proposal of a corporate merging between Rabource and a popular Korean kimchi manufacturer, to which after several meetings his boss, the president of Rabource (who, incidentally is a white rabbit), gives him the go-ahead. Things start to look up for Tamura upon meeting Mr. Kim (Lee Ho) of the ’Pe Nosan’ company and his pet flying squirrel, Momo. Not only is business great, but so too does Tamura share a loving relationship with Yoko (Elli-Rose), putting behind him his troublesome past. But all of that comes back to haunt him one day when he’s informed by detectives Kitagawa (Eiichi Kikuchi) and Ono (Hironobu Nomura) of Yoko’s brutal slaying. For three years Tamura has been secretly visiting Dr. Nonaka (Arthur Kuroda) in order to cope with the disappearance of his former fiancé Yukari; his memories deeply shrouded in mystery. Does Yoko’s murder really have anything to do with the loss of Yukari? Can Tamura really be so unrelentingly violent? Detective Ono seems to think so, and so does the local convenience store frog. Tamura is about to face his most inner demons as he strives to seek out the truth behind what’s going on in Minoru Kawasaki’s surreal mystery thriller.
Minoru Kawasaki has earned himself a nice little niche reputation as being one of the most absurdist and energetic film makers working in Japan today. His style - born from his childhood days spent watching Kaiju cinema and Sentai television - is unmistakable in its attempts to break barriers by predominantly transplanting oversized animals into everyday human situations. He began directing 8mm shorts at the age of 18 during the latter part of the seventies, and even then films such as Huuto (1977) which featured a piece of mochi (rice cake) transforming into a giant city-stomping creature, helped to carve his destiny as a film maker with clear intents. Throughout the eighties he worked on various TV and video productions, bringing to life several manga adaptations and children’s stories for instance, while funding personal projects from his own pocket. He continued to produce and direct during the nineties, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago with the festival craze The Calamari Wrestler that he’d start to enjoy worldwide recognition. Since that time he’s been working tirelessly to bring to the screen his own oddball vision, which more often than not sees him parodying various genre flicks as he uniquely channels his love for Kaiju weirdness.
Kawasaki’s follow-on from 2004’s The Calamari Wrestler, and made during the same year as the as-yet-unreleased wrestling comedy Kabuto-O Beetle is altogether a different beast from the former, in a sense that it feels a whole lot more evenly paced and assertive. While the evident labour-of-love Calamari was certainly an interesting slice of Kaiju cinema it seemed to be weighed down by a somewhat scattershot script, which ironically lost credibility the more it attempted to unravel the mystery behind the bizarre appearance of its lead character. Executive Koala still follows the whole human-sized animal premise, but this time the director has the better judgement to dispense with explanations, place a giant business-suited koala in the forefront and simply be done with it. As with The Calamari Wrestler, then, our hero is nonetheless treated like any other regular citizen, and that of course is all part of Kawasaki’s charm as a director; that somehow, despite the beastly nature and chinks in the armour like zips and whatnot, we can actually buy into such a comic creation and never feel the need to ask the obvious. Of course there is a natural pay-off to Tamura being a koala by the end, but still it is more than easy to along for the ride. Kawasaki’s main skill as a director is his natural confidence; he knows exactly what should work in relation to this ridiculous creature and will use the cheapest method to get the biggest laughs. And indeed Executive Koala is often hilarious on account of the simplest approach and a sense of perfect comic timing. There’s a priceless moment, for example, when upon learning of his girlfriend’s death the camera zooms in on Tamura’s jaw dropping an inch or so; the pitching of the scene is one such exemplary moment which words do little justice, much like a moment earlier on when we see Tamura text-ing his girlfriend on his mobile phone with his overly large and furry digits. It’s the numerous sight gags that raise the biggest smiles, but with the entire cast playing events totally straight it also opens up a manner of ways for the director to additionally exploit typical genre conventions.
Executive Koala relishes the opportunity to work off of the cliché. Kawasaki manages to wonderfully interweave horror, comedy, romance and suspense to deliver some genuinely workable twists that play up to tried and tested formulas. And it can be dark at times, boasting several semi-disturbing sequences dealing with domestic violence. If it wasn’t for the fact that we’re (guiltily) forced to laugh during one particular outburst which culminates with a koala cackling to himself while a chained woman eats rice from a bowl on all fours I’d wager the feature would be something else entirely. Despite some dark psychological undercurrents, however, the director never fails to remind us that he’s just being silly and nothing is more evident than during the completely bat-shit insane third act, in which everything comes together in a mash-up of sing-a-longs, martial arts and even more logic-defying sensibilities. But oh, what a rewarding thing to witness.
is part of Synapse’s ‘The Minoru Kawasaki Collection’, which additionally gathers The Rug Cop and The World Sinks Except Japan. These are released individually.
Synapse’s progressive 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation is rather excellent. The digitally-shot production exhibits a healthy amount of detail and offers an ideal colour balance. There’s not much here to disguise the fact that we’re watching a considerably low budget piece of entertainment and Kawasaki even seems disinterested in manipulating the footage to bring us something more ‘film-like’. His lighting is adequate and contrast levels don’t appear unusual, but overall it’s pretty darn pristine looking, with not a lick of digital artefacting or edge enhancement. For the sake of noting it there is a spot of aliasing, but even that is at a bare minimum.
The Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is likewise uniformly good. It’s not particularly robust but it’s perfectly pitched, offering nice audible levels in the dialogue department, while the soundtrack gets much loving, from the zany intro piece to the obligatory musical number.
Optional English subtitles are included and offer a solid translation. There are a couple of grammatical errors, including the occasional misspelt name, but nothing at all is distracting.
The main attraction on the disc is Making of Executive Koala (39.38). This goes through the remarkable seven-day shoot in order. At the beginning we’re shown the early costume builds and rehearsal footage, which then moves on to directing against blue screen for all the main effects work on day 2. From here the third day covers the main action sequences and day 4 is a little more relaxed with the office interior shoot. Day 5 and 6 shows plenty more dialogue-driven scenes and day 7 has exterior shoots and remaining fight rehearsals. Finally we see Kawasaki and his team enjoy a special invite screening at the 2005 Hawaii Int. Film Festival and the film’s 2006 Japanese premiere at Shibuya Cine. In-between there are very brief actor interviews and some funny moments showing the director lapping up the comedy animals. We do get to see the stunt man playing Tamura several times, sans furry head, but his name is never mentioned, unlike frog actor Hiroyuki Ando..
Also included is the original theatrical trailer and TV spot, proclaiming this ‘The most shocking psycho-koala horror movie!’
Make no mistake, Executive Koala is as mad as a hatter, but it’s equally smart to boot. Look beyond its main selling point and you’ll find a feature film all too aware of modern cinema trends; one which deconstructs every possible genre, takes what it needs and still comes away feeling as fresh as a new-born…squid.