Production Company: Amuse
Release: 9 November 1996
Length: 100 min.
Format: 35 mm
Director: Yamamoto Masashi
Executive Producers: Yokoyama Gen’ichi, Morishige Akira
Producer: Hayashi Kaizo
Screenplay: Yamamoto Masashi
Photography: Li Yi-xu
Music: Matsuda Hiroshi and B.C. Guys, Brand New Monkeys
Editor: Tomita Nobuko
Yuki: Suzuki Saiko
Matsumoto: Furuta Arata
Miyu: Shimizu Ayumi
Ben Johnson: himself
Yoshi: Nozawa Hideyuki
Shinohara: Kawamura Kamon
Papi: Lily Yi
Takaoka, the police chief: Tobayama Bunmei
Matsumoto’s secretary: Otori Rumi
‘Boogie’ Beyond Control
Popularized at the turn of the 19th century as a means of training young bodies for the service of the state, the undokai or athletic meet has become a symbol of Japanese schools, companies and local communities–a delightful way to compete and work up a sweat while simultaneously strengthening the body politic.
The affluent residents of Todorokicho in Yamamato Masashi’s bizarre new comedy Atlanta Boogie carry on this chauvanistic tradition when they vigorously protest a proposal that their mostly illegal, foreign neighbors be allowed to take part in the local undokai. By definition, such a Japanese institution is no place for them, they seem to say.
In the movie, gaijin participation is secured only when a nouveau riche power broker named Matsumoto (Furuta Arata) and the police chief (Tobayama Bunmei) deviously decide on the undokai as a way of ridding the town of unclean foreigners once and for all. Ignorant of the scheme, Shinohara (Kawamura Kamon), a small-time local shopkeeper and friend of the foreigners, asks the deadbeat Yoshi (Nozawa Hideyuki) and the tough bargirl Yuki (Suzuki Saiko) to organize a team around the inhabitants of Yoshi’s cheap, but international boarding house, the Hotel Hyatto.
Their rag-tag team, however, looks to be no match for Matsumoto’s gang of hired guns, peppered with former major league and NBA stars. Undaunted, Shinohara and Yuki raise the stakes, challenging Matsumoto to phenomenal bets and hiring both a pro undokai supervisor (Lily Yi) and their own ringers (including tarnished Olympian Ben Johnson–the real one). Events snowball until this parochial Yokohama athletic meet captures a worldwide satellite audience and threatens to top the Atlanta Olympics (ergo the title).
Although concluding with the undokai, Atlanta Boogie is not just an absurd sports movie. Producer Hayashi Kaizo, known for his own international directorial efforts, has gathered together a multi-national cast of Senegalese, Pakistanis, Canadians, and Chinese, as well as a Pan-Asian crew that includes two veterans of Edward Yang’s staff: photographer Li Yi-xu and lighting man Li Long-yu.
Epitomized by the eleven languages crisscrossing the film, Altanta Boogie is a cosmopolitan potpourri that follows in the tracks of several other recent “borderless” Japanese movies, from Otomo Katsuhiro’s World Apartment Horror to Sai Yoichi’s All Under the Moon (“Tsuki wa dotchi ni dete iru,” 1993) and Iwai Shunji’s Swallowtail Butterfly (“Suwaroteru,” 1996).
Beyond focusing on the de-homogenization of Japanese society, such films also seemingly strive for a more international Japanese cinema, one that can survive financially by playing to a foreign, particularly Asian market.
Unlike Swallowtail Butterfly, which was two-and-a-half hours of pretentiously artsy torture, Yamamoto’s film carries on the irreverent tradition of the first two. Musical numbers, absurd sets and Furuta Arata’s hyperactive performance make Atlanta Boogie a frenetic if not sometimes out-of-control farce.
In fact, the dominant mood of Atlanta Boogie is of a raucous company undokai. In the spirit of other talent agencies turned movie producer like Hori Pro, Atlanta’s production company Amuse didn’t stop at casting some of its own musical artists in the major roles, it organized cameos by dozens of others, including Kishitani Goro, Tsukamoto Shinya, Nagase Masatoshi, and Bakufu Slump. The resulting musical score is one of the film’s most enjoyable aspects.
In the end, Atlanta Boogie can be as fun as, but also as uneven as any undokai, with some performers missing the starting gun and not a few of the gags falling flat on the track. It’s like everyone at Amuse just got together one day, ran to their heart’s delight and put it all on film.
A skilled comedy director such as Kawashima Yuzo could have pulled this chaos together into a film, but one has the impression that Yamamoto, known for his more serious Robinson’s Garden (“Robinson no niwa,” 1987) and the unfinished Kumagusu, is not completely up to the task. The producers may have had a laugh at a Japanese symbol, but Todorokicho is far from topping Atlanta.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 31 October 1996, p. 11.
Copyright 1996: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow