Judge William Lee casts a wide net.
"This time, I'm cast as the lead."—Hiroshi
Writer-director Atsushi Ogata's first feature film owes much to the style and reputation of Woody Allen. Cast Me If You Can doesn't so much mimicking the tireless American director as it demonstrates what the novice filmmaker has learned from observing the veteran. This Japanese romantic comedy has enough charm of its own, even though it is a little unpolished.
Hiroshi (Toru Masuoka, My Neighbors the Yamadas) has a modest acting career playing supporting parts. The epitome of a "that guy" actor, people often remark how familiar he looks but they can't quite place where they've seen him exactly. Hiroshi has a knack for looking the part whether he's mistaken for a shop clerk or a suspected kidnapper pictured in the papers. Just when he's due for a big break—the lead in a Japanese remake of a Woody Allen movie—Hiroshi is implicated in a tabloid scandal that costs him the role.
While minding his ailing father, Kenta (Masahiko Tsugawa, Crazed Fruit), and trying to clear his name, Hiroshi meets Aya (Hiromi Nagasaku, Doppelganger, an aspiring actress whose bubbly, sweet personality unsettles his routine. When Aya recognizes Kenta is a famous playwright, she hopes to get cast in his new work. This puts a strain on Hiroshi's blossoming romance with Aya because he's tired of living in his father's shadow.
Ogata's movie draws inspiration from Woody Allen but he's not trying to make a Woody Allen movie. There are formal touches that tip his hand such as extended single-take scenes or tracking with characters as they walk and talk about philosophy and art. Ogata also uses locations that make Tokyo appear very grounded—this is the rare movie where I can picture ordinary people living in that exotic metropolis. If the principle actors are meant to evoke hyper-articulate, neurotic New Yorkers, then something has been lost in translation. Tall and reserved, Hiroshi is more of a straight-man type. At times, it's hard to know what he is thinking. In a scene when he is asked to enter his number into Aya's cell phone, Hiroshi is suddenly distracted and walks away. Yet, I found it unclear if he was unaware of his actions or if he was deliberately being antisocial. A little more dialogue or broader expression from Hiroshi would have made him an easier character to sympathize with but he's such a hapless and kind person that we like him enough anyway. Aya adds a ray of sunshine to the proceedings with her energy and optimism. But she's not the magical pixie who exists merely to guide Hiroshi. In contrast to his near acceptance of his perpetual supporting role status, Aya is the perfect foil with her pent up star potential.
While the movie is handsomely made, there are a handful of directorial choices that work against it. Ogata tends to hold individual shots just a little too long. When the actors are frozen with the same expression for an extended time, it feels like calling "cut" is overdue. A few detours into slapstick humor aren't always successful. It is hard to believe the heist and modification of a cell phone can occur in plain view of its owner. Whether on account of shortcuts in the staging or editing shortfalls, these minor troubles don't ruin the movie but they leave room for improvement.
The image is presented in a respectable 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. The image is clean and colors are rendered quite naturally. There is a deliberate drabness to the color choices which works all the better for allowing Aya to stand out in her colorful costumes. The stereo audio is fine, though nothing to really excite the ears.
There is a nice selection of extras included but some are not translated for English-speaking audiences. Ogata's 2006 short film "Eternally Yours" (14:30) also stars Toru Masuoka. He plays a con man targeting an elderly woman in this dark comedy. It's in Japanese with English subtitles. The making-of featurette (6:00) and the Q&A sessions (24:00) following two screenings are presented in Japanese only and without subtitles. The Japanese and English trailers for the movie are also included.
The audio commentaries by Atsushi Ogata, recorded separately in Japanese and English, are the best bonuses. The director is very articulate about film and he talks openly about what he was trying to achieve in each scene. Hearing him explain all the small details of the production, his enthusiasm for the film is obvious. He also points out the culturally specific elements that would be lost on North American audiences such as Internet cafes being used as a low-rent housing option. Ogata's commentary actually made me appreciate the movie more than I did initially.
Cast Me If You Can isn't perfect, but it is very charming. Overlook the occasionally rough direction and you'll enjoy the light romance between two showbiz dreamers. This cute romantic comedy is a recommended rental.
Expecting further good-natured, charming work from the filmmakers, the court suspends sentencing against this movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
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