Fine, Totally Fine Review
Groundskeeper and horror buff Teruo Tohyama (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa) lives at home with his father and bookstore owner Eitaro (Keizo Kanie) and dreams of one day creating the most ultra-hardcore haunted house in Japan. Day by day he conjures up and carries out elaborate pranks on the unsuspecting, living each moment to see that ultimate scare come around; meanwhile his father is suffering from sickness of the heart, finding little excitement in his surroundings, until eventually deciding to up and leave on a journey of self discovery. Teruo’s best friend Hisanobu (Okada Yoshinori), like Teruo, is approaching the age of 30, but whereas Teruo wishes to continue living life as an idiot, Hisanobu realises that he must shape up and begin to take things a little more seriously. Working as a hospital administrator, Hisanobu readily treats everybody with respect, helping out anybody no matter the situation; his boss even tells him that his politeness is nothing but a cry to be liked. One day that goes so far as to see him take a chance on a young and clumsy, yet artistic woman by the name of Akari (Kimura Yoshino), whose life so far has been a series of downs. Just with every other job she’s had though, Akari finds herself quitting after several disastrous events, but Hisanobu feels for her plight and introduces her to Teruo, who lets her work with him part-time at the book store.
Teruo takes a liking to Akari and thinks of her as one day becoming his wife, while Hisanobu struggles to even approach her on more personal terms. Akari remains oblivious to their feelings and slowly begins falling in love with a local ceramics restorer (Naoki Tanaka) who had recently taken a shine to her drawings. Infatuation for this girl places strain upon the relationship shared between the two best friends, who now, like Eitaro, need to re-evaluate their lives and make the most of what they have.
A veteran of short film-making, award winner Yosuke Fujita took twenty years to realize his first feature length film in 2007’s Fine, Totally Fine [Zenzen Daijobu]. He turned his expertise early on toward stage production, since churning out collaborations with the Otona Keikaku comedy troupe, headed by director/actor Suzuki Matsuo. During his time spent with the act he had the good fortune of working with some of Japan’s busiest contemporaries, including the likes of Kankuro Kudo and Sadao Abe. The transition in moving from stage to cinema, much like his peers then, has proved fruitful; his experience working with such luminaries has helped him to craft a film probably best described as lovely.
Fujita adopts a common theme for Fine, Totally Fine, not just that of a love triangle between friends but one which also deals with alienation, here between a select group of individuals and a somewhat dysfunctional family; people seemingly afraid or incapable of heading out into society and taking their hopes and dreams beyond a simple idea. And indeed there are many of us like this in the world, those who need that kick up the backside in order to unlock their potential. Fujita understands this all too well and conveys his message in a way that can be considered quite refreshing given current Asian cinema trends in a market oversaturated with melodrama. Here’s a director with no grand agenda it seems - a refusal to press our buttons as it were. Fine, Totally Fine is indeed sincere filmmaking, coming from a man who draws upon personal experience for his surrounding environment. Fujita maintains a minimalist approach, choosing visual eccentricities over deep musing, and showing that he can direct actors in a manner which allows them to convey a multitude of feelings with so very little effort.
And while it may not sound it, Fujita’s debut offering is every bit as much a light comedy affair; a feature made up of a series of vignettes, which examine our needy characters in exquisite detail. If we let it life can be mundane and serve nothing but a series of disappointments, but if we decide to change it can yield endless possibilities. Fujita’s characters represent a broad spectrum which echo those sentiments, and it’s through their own little quirks, uncertainties and determination that much of the observational humour is derived, whether it be born from positive situations or embarrassing ones. The director adds a distinctly absurdist style to several moments (Akari breaking her finger upon pushing an elevator button for instance) yet he also adds touches of poignancy when exploring various character obsessions, which seem rather oddball on the outset: Teruo’s fascination toward scaring people; Komori’s need to please everyone he comes into contact with; and Akari’s artistic endeavours spurred on by a mentally ill homeless woman. These moments are finely tuned, and with a wonderfully nuanced cast led by comedian Yoshiyoshi Arakawa in his first major starring role, it remains beautifully humanistic throughout.
Third Window Films presents Fine, Totally Fine at 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement. Shot digitally, the film comes across very clean, if a tad soft, which unfortunately isn’t helped by a standards conversion showing signs of ghosting. Still, the colour balance is very pleasant and there are no compression artefacts dragging it down any further.
The Japanese DD2.0 track, again flagged as Korean (see Funuke), is also nicely balanced. Great things are never required of it; the score from Ekomo Mai is rather understated, and the dialogue quaint, leaving me to wonder if the DTS stereo used in cinemas was really worth it. Both hold up well nonetheless and there are no defects to speak of.
Optional English subtitles are included and we’ve a fine, well timed translation, free from grammatical errors.
The main attractions to the disc are two interviews. First up is lead Yoshiyoshi Arakawa (10.34), who going against his screen persona is rather shy, which he freely admits. Softly spoken, Yoshiyoshi talks of his experiences on the film, from reading the script to getting the gig, and when prompted about his acting often comments that he doesn’t like to watch himself on screen. Appearing slightly nervous he does have the crap task of having to answer one or two lame questions, before speaking of preparing for acting roles and working with cast members.
Likewise, Okada Yoshinori is very down to earth and a tad shy, equally being embarrassed to talk about his acting. His questions are almost the same as those aimed at Yoshiyoshi, so it’s a tad predictable, but he carries the interview off well and shows his enthusiasm for the work. One caveat for these interviews would be the hard subtitles, which take up far too much space and occasionally obscure portions of the actor’s heads.
A Japanese trailer for the film, along with several Third Window trailers round off the disc.
Fine, Totally Fine isn’t a film that goes out of its way to challenge the viewer; it’s a fairly understated production which entertains on account of its sincerity and its love for the characters it depicts. A very charming and funny feature.