Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Down the Drain

Down the Drain (1993, Shinobu Yaguchi)

I take it some of you are aware of, or have even experienced situations when Murphy’s law was hanging down on you. For the unaware, Murphy’s law dictates that whatever can go wrong will indeed go wrong. In Yaguchi’s Down the Drain, whatever can go wrong for the young Junco (Saori Serikawa) does indeed go horribly, horribly wrong, and consistently so.

Underperforming at school with and seeing her hopes of entering college flounder before her very eyes, Junco’s friend lends her a bus pass for her to visit her grandmother. Once on board however, a ticket officer discovers that the pass is not hers (I’m not sure how that works in Japan, but I ran with the idea anyways) and asks her to come with him to a police station. Mistake number one. When the police are distracted, Junco makes a dash for it. Mistake number two. And so begins a long, long few days or so for our unlucky heroine. A ruptured relationship with a boyfriend, a deceased grandmother, her former clique from school turning on her, a car accident, house break-ins, rape… things go really downhill.

Before any of you begin to think that this sounds like just a silly comedy, allow me to say two things. The first is that yes, the film is silly just by the nature of its plot. However, Down the Drain succeeds in juggling the comedic and darker aspects of the storyline. There are indeed some zany moments that stretch beyond believability, but Down the Drain also makes sure to preserve a certain tone which fits the context of the character. Junco is, like many teenagers do, experiencing a difficult period of adolescence. Her grades aren’t the best, there is the pressure of a college future, boyfriend issues, and she is feeling a sense of alienation from her family. Rather than take those elements and make fun of them, a trap that other comedies would easily fall into, the film uses them to create a black comedy. Her emotional and psychological state thus becomes the inspiration for events that at times offer some hope and at other times test her resilience. I wouldn’t want to make the argument that the film makes genuine attempts at being profound and thought provoking, but I nonetheless had the impression that it was making effective use of Junco’s adolescent problems, while still keeping things rather wild at times. I fear that I’m not explaining this well at all, but hopefully anybody willing to watch the film despite my horrendous argument for its quality will understand what it is that I’m trying to get at.

For the record, there are no cute laughs to be found here. As I mentioned above, this is a black comedy. The comedic quality of the movie resides not only in the absurd nature of the events that transpire but also in the dialogue. There are some brutal lines in the film, but I found myself unleashing some belly laughs for several of them. Early in the film the viewer is privy to Junco’s boyfriend’s thoughts for a brief a moment as he mulls over her many quirks. He describes how she enters a trance like state when working on mathematical problems, how numbers in general seem to have potent effect on her, which at times causes her to drool. It is almost as if ‘numbers make her come.’ (actual quote). Now, some of you might not find that funny at all and I can understand that. However, in the context of the film, with this absurd, weird and dark tone set up already, I thought that was pretty funny.

Saori Serikawa is quite likable in the starring role. While she may not be given that much to do seeing as how a lot happens to her rather than her doing things, I thought she was quite likable. Through it all I did support her in this mess of an adventure. The most memorable character however is a sexy and witty homeless women who, in truth, isn’t really homeless at all since she sneaks into peoples homes while they are away. How Junco gets into this mess I won’t divulge so not to spoil the fun, but that entire sequence is oddly entertaining. The character returns later in what is easily the movie’s most controversial scenes. I haven’t seen the recent Seth Rogen comedy Observe and Report, but I am aware of the scene that many moviegoers are complaining about. There is, I would argue, a similar scene in Down the Drain. While the act itself is not funny (as pathetic as I can be at times, I do retain certain minimal standards), I must admit that the before and after scenes are indeed pretty funny. I’ve probably lost a significant amount of credibility with that confession alone, so I’ll make this short and escape with my skin intact.

Down the Drain is not one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen, but I did find entertainment its is dark tone and strange sense of comedy. I liked the main character of Junco and understood her plight, the actress playing her was strong. Several supporting characters, most notably the homeless woman, were fun to have around. All in all, when a comedy works, I personally find it difficult to pinpoint major complaints. The film simply tapped into my own weird sense of humour.

No comments: