Backdrop Papa

Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Director: Toshio Lee
Running time: 98 minutes
Language: Japanese
Opens Oct. 8
[See Japan Times movie listings]

Boys want their fathers to be heroes. Men want to be heroes to their sons. These truisms sound old-fashioned in today's unheroic Tokyo, where dads are commonly corporate warriors whose battles involve no blood-letting (unless one is counting ulcers, of course).

But the urge for a father to prove himself as a man among men to his son is still strong. Thus all those out-of-shape dads huffing and puffing around the track at junior's school undokai (sports day). Hense all those indoorsmen schlepping on camping trips where they can demonstrate their manly skills at pitching tents, starting fires and crunching aluminium cans with their bare hands.

But boys, as Toshio Lee's feature debut "Backdrop Papa" illustrates, aren't easily fooled or pleased. For Kazuo (Ryunosuke Kamiki), who has ascended past dad-worshipping babyhood into the jaded upper grades of elementary school, his pro wrestler father (Tsuyoshi Ukaji) is nothing but an embarrassment. Aptly named Ushinosuke (which roughly translates as "Bull"), Dad plays the hero in the ring, but can usually count his audience on the fingers of his massive hands. Also, though movie-star handsome, he is long past his prime and his chintzy-looking championship belt is nothing but a joke.