Fine, Totally Fine

Format: Cinema

Release date: 14 November 2008

Venues: ICA Cinema (London)

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Yosuke Fujita

Writer: Yosuke Fujita

Original title: Zenzen daijobu

Cast: Yoshiyoshi Arakawa, Yoshinori Okada, Yoshino Kimura

Japan 2008

110 mins

‘Cute’ may not be the most inspiring adjective used to describe a film. But Fine, Totally Fine, the first full-length feature from Yosuke Fujita is cute – as well as offbeat, charming and very funny. Set in the Tokyo suburbs, far away from the neon lights of Shibuya, the film is a laid-back, quirky look at the slightly surreal, everyday lives of three misfits struggling to grow up as they approach the traumatic age of 30.

Yoshiyoshi Arakawa (who was in the equally funny 2002 film Ping Pong) is Teruo, a part-time groundskeeper who spends all his spare time devising elaborate and gory tricks to scare the life out of his friends and family (think lots of severed heads), while dreaming of opening a haunted theme park. He lives in a room crammed with spooky memorabilia above the second-hand bookstore owned by his father, who is suffering from depression and does little more than stay in bed all day watching television.

Teruo’s best friend Hisanobu (Yoshinori Okada) does have a real job supervising hospital cleaning staff, but he’s so desperate to be liked by everyone that he’s incapable of disciplining his workers, and even hires the cute but impossibly shy Akari (Yoshino Kimura) as a cleaner after she shows up in his office with her clothes torn and covered in mud. She’s so painfully clumsy that opening a box of Kleenex turns into a major ordeal. She is also something of an artist (with a taste for fish sausages) and spies on and obsessively paints an old, eccentric bag-lady, who makes colourful and bizarre sculptures of her own from found objects.

An endless number of light-hearted, comedic scenes arise from the intersection of the three anti-heroes’ lives. Finally let go from the hospital after a slapstick accident while cleaning up after a surgery, Teruo hires Akari to work in the bookstore after his father finally picks himself up and takes off to do some travelling (and finds a new calling as a lo-fi pop musician). While Akari is better suited to life in the shop, she’s still subjected to agonisingly awkward moments dealing with customers, especially those buying the hard-core porn mags on sale. This set-up lays the ground work for the classic love triangle, but Fujitsa mostly steers away from predictable clichés. The boys are such slackers that they only realise too late that they should pursue Akari at all.

While there isn’t a lot of dramatic tension in the film, or even a clear direction, Fujtsa draws us into the story with a series of perfectly captured, oddball moments. Great performances, plenty of physical comedy (especially from Yoshino) and some great gags make Fine, Totally Fine an entertaining, original and endearing film. And while Teruo never builds his haunted house, he and the others do take a few tentative steps towards adulthood.

Sarah Cronin