Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 18, 2023 7:36 am 
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FUMIARI HYUGA: I AM A COMEDIAN アイ アム ア コメディアン ( 2022) - JAPAN CUTS JULY 26-AUGUST 6, 2023


Documentary of the trials and evolving style of a controversial Japanese comic

A middle school dropout, 79th in a class of 79, from the nowhere town of Fukui, comic Daisuke Miramoto won a big competition in 2010 and played with his partner Nakagawa Paradise as "Women's Rush Hour" delivering high speed machine-gun patter to large audiences with 150 shows a year. Then he began talking bluntly about politics and social issues - the mindless personality worship of President Shinzo Abe; the faulty cleanup after the Fukuoka disaster - and he was cut from TV and his audience dropped to nothing.(Translation may lose nuances, but this political talk seems unfunny.) This well crafted documentary of a major Japanese comedian's trials follows him for a three-year period and is artful and thought-provoking. It brings the social limitations of Japanese culture into sharp relief and illustrates the truth of the cliché of the sad comic.

Filmmaker Hyuga follows Muramoto for three years as he continues to challenge the status quo as a comedian and as his comic style evolves into something more personal and heartfelt while he faces the added challenges of a diminished audience, of his father’s disapproval an ofd a worldwide epidemic that caused his shows to be cancelled. He connects to Zainichi Koreans in Japan, permanent residents who yet have second class status, and he goes to South Korea and bonds with students of Japanese there.

The film follows several dramatic arcs. Muramoto decides he wants to move to America after his fortunes drop in Japan due to the politics, and he goes there for a short time, and attempts to do standup in small clubs, even though he knows little English (remember, he was a terrible student), using notebooks. It's brave. In one small club with mostly black people, they laugh at every line he says. In others he bombs because they can't understand him.

The filmmaker also follows him back to visit his mother, whom he hasn't seen for years, and an old school friend. The school friend recalls he connected with the smart guys even though he was an academic failure. His mom is feisty and cheerful and has scrapbooks of his fame. With his father -his parents are divorced - it's more intimate and affectionate; but then they argue over politics. He objects to his younger brother's guard service because it's dangerous, his father doesn't. After, he cries. And he acknowledges to his schoolmate that being no good at anything was very painful, in school - and meanwhile, while he was growing up, his parents were constantly fighting. But his mother has recounted that even as a small kid he was a comedian and make people laugh.

Every so often director Hyuga lets the soundtrack go silent for a haunting moment; sometimes lets the screen go dark as well. This haunting effect risks losing the film's forward motion, but is a way of hinting how precarious the world of this man, of perhaps all standup comics is. Miramoto and his partner still get scheduled for sold-out performances in all the major cities. Then Covid-19 comes and one after another these big shows are cancelled. He has no income.

Back in Japan, for a small audience, when he dramatizes a "screaming angry lovefest" on the phone with his father over Prada shoes, we see his edgy, emotional improvisational gift, how he can safely bring his edgy experiences into the more timid world of Japanese culture with healing laughter. His routine before a small audience the day after his father has died of cancer is something to see. It does translate. Afterward he says as an eldest son he failed as a mourner, but "As a comedian I killed it, Dad."

Over its three-year time span I Am a Comedian conveys as well as any film you'll ever see how a comic turns the tragedies of his own life into laughs. Where does Miramoto go after this? Will he find a way to be edgy and still make a living in Japan? One certainly hopes so - because when he says "I am a comedian, I am a comedian" in English, he is expressing the deep calling he has, the thing he was born to be. His growing intimacy and emotional rawness cuts through the bonds of Japanese culture in fascinating ways.

I Am a Comedianアイ アム ア コメディアン, 108 min., debuted at the DMZ (Korea) Sept. 23, 2022; at Tokyo Film Festival Oct. 29, 2022. Screened for this review as part of the Jul. 26-Aug. 6, 2023 Japan Cuts, NYC, where it was shown Sat., Jul. 29, 2023, 3:30 pm.


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