The farce as a genre doesn’t get a lot of respect, relying as it does on wacky, paper-thin characters and a story that is just an excuse for knock-about gags. But making one that truly works as a film, not a drawn-out skit, is no easy trick.
Veteran TV director Michihito Ogawa has pulled it off with seeming ease in “Koun no Tsubo — Good Fortune (Pot of Good Fortune),” which premiered at last year’s Okinawa International Movie Festival. I say “seeming” because, as the outtakes on the credit crawl show, the film’s type of physical comedy requires meticulous preparation and fine-tuned choreography, as well as making the inevitable pain invisible to the audience (easy if they’re too busy laughing). See the master of the form, Buster Keaton, for further examples.
If “Good Fortune” doesn’t build to the sublime, death-defying heights of “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” or other Keaton classics, it gets laughs with metronomic regularity, while cleverly laying the groundwork for its twist ending.
Also, though the action is entirely improbable, nothing feels strained or simply ridiculous. The story, of a struggling actor with a terror of a wife who finds himself the victim of absurd circumstance, develops its own thoroughly worked-out illogic. Seeing it again for this review, nearly a year after attending its premiere at Okinawa, I laughed nearly as hard as I did the first time — proof of either the film’s comic value or (quite possibly) advancing senility.
Our hero, the pudgy, potato-faced Ryosaku Hakamada (Hosshan), is still fumbling his way through bit roles in his mid-30s. Fed up with supporting him, his once-loving wife Asami (Kumiko Aso) has become such a termagant that Ryosaku’s actor pal half-jokingly suggests murder as the solution to his woes. Ryosaku, however, wouldn’t harm a fly, let alone a woman who can deck him with one punch.
Through a series of unfortunate events I won’t describe, Asami nonetheless ends up a corpse in their apartment, and Ryosaku realizes that if he calls the cops, he will be a prime suspect. What to do with the body?
As soon as he puts his plans, such as they are, into motion, they start to fall apart. His obnoxious younger sister, Erika (Aimi Satsukawa), arrives to spend the night after a bust-up with her boyfriend, and the nosy building manager (Keiko Toda) shows up at an inconvenient moment — and gives him a big golden pot she claims will change his luck. This eyesore, however, only gets him into more trouble.
As Ryosaku, TV comedian Hosshan acts out at the expected moments (as when Asami goes blotto before his horrified eyes), but never turns his sad-sack character into a mugging cartoon. Instead he seems to channel an alternative, loser version of himself, who is still in love with his craft and even his wife, despite the endless humiliations and bruises.
Outstanding among the supporting cast are Satsukawa, a diminutive live wire with sure comic instincts, and Toda, who switches personalties without missing a beat. Also good, even when cold-cocked, is Aso, in a role radically different from her usual sweet ditz.
And here I should stop, since saying more about the plot or anything else would spoil the fun. Based on an original idea instead of the usual manga or TV show, “Pot” may not make piles of cash for its production house, Yoshimoto Kogyo — but as a comedy it’s a cornucopia.