With Permanent Nobara director Yoshida confirms his
signature style, removing all doubt that his previous films were some
kind of lucky hits. Pay no attention to the poster I listed
here por the trailers you find online, Yoshida's latest is a lot edgier that its own advertisement would
have you believe. It's a cheeky little comedy with more sting than your
average film, leaving you behind pretty amused yet somewhat bewildered.
Yoshida's first film (Funuke, Show Some Love You Losers)
is one of my all-time favorite films. It dominates a list of off-key
Japanese comedies that gained popularity in the late '00, combining
rather wry drama with light-hearted comedy. A weird and awkward
combination that won't appeal to everyone and no doubt requires a
somewhat warped sense of humor to appreciate. It's difficult to compare
to other comedy sub genres, but if you're into Todd Solondz (Happiness, Life During Wartime) it's definitely worth a shot.
At first glance Permanent Nobara reminded me a little of Naoko Ogigami's Yoshino's Barber Shop. It features a similar town and similar hair dresser salon (one-style
only haircuts - perms in this case), even the laid-back atmosphere is
somewhat reminiscent. That is, until people start to talk to each other.
The dialogs are strangely honest and direct, contradicting the
appearance of the characters in front of us. Jolly looking grandmas are
talking about scoring dates and screwing men, kids are talking about
abortions and women are rather unbothered about the unfaithfulness of
their husbands. Something is definitely off here.
Central to the story lies the tale of Naoko, a young mother who returns
to her home village after divorcing her husband. Together with her young
daughter Naoko moves in with her mother, using her spare time to help
out in the local hair salon. Naoko tries to pick up the pieces of her
life and starts dating her old classroom teacher, but much like the
other men in the village he doesn't appear to be too reliable.
Visually Yoshida remains true to the conventions of the genre. Rural
Japanese dramas usually result in bright green colors and idyllic
landscapes, emitting a tranquil and soothing atmosphere. Add a couple of
beautiful beach scenes and some scenic shots of the sky and you pretty
much know what to expect from this film. Yoshida paints a pretty
picture, though not overly stylized or in-your-face.
The soundtrack is quite simply a logical extension of the visuals. Soft
piano music and agreeable strings combine to create a sweet, enjoyable
atmosphere. It's not the kind of music you'll remember after watching
the film, but it does serve its purpose rather well. I could see it
working as some kind of de-stressing therapy, but I don't think that was
Yoshida's aim here. Again, the film remains true to genre conventions.
Main character Naoko is played by Miho Kanno, an actress I first
discovered watching Kitano's Dolls where she portrayed one of the
saddest characters I've ever seen on film. Her talent for drama is a
real asset to Permanent Nobara, as she can easily switch between
heart-felt drama and the lighter, more deceptive dramatic scenes Yoshida
forces onto his audience. The supporting cast is pretty great too,
providing comedy and additional portions of sorrow to make the picture
Permanent Nobara draws its humor from the light-hearted way it
approaches its overly dramatic story. Through the eyes of any other
director, there would've been a lot of pain and sorrow in this little
village, but Yoshida turns it around and creates a happy, joyous and
up-beat community of people that deal with their problems as it they
were just little bumps in the road. Safe a few clear comedic interludes,
Yoshida isn't too direct about his methods though. Most conversations
are just passing moments that would go completely unnoticed if you
weren't paying attentions to the subtitles. Everything in this film is
made to make it feel as if you were watching a regular, run-of-the-mill
(though quality) Japanese drama, but when you think you see some old
ladies talking about the weather, they're really discussing penis
Like I said before, you need to be susceptible to this kind of humor to
appreciate Yoshida's films. The end of Permanent Nobara is more
straight-forward drama (that works remarkably well by the way, all
credit goes to the superb acting of Kanno), but the first hour or so,
even though the film is drenched in dramatic events, is straight-up
comedy. This will no doubt lead to mixed reactions, but if you think you
can handle it, this film is absolutely worth your time.
I'm actively seeking out Yoshida's final film, if it proves to be as
good as Funuke and Permanent Nobara he's making my select list of
directors to watch. If it doesn't, Yoshida is still responsible for two
lovely comedies. Permanent Nobara isn't as edgy or out there as Funuke,
but it's a great follow-up that knows to charm and amuse in equal
measures. Recommended if you think you're up to the challenge.
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