Film / Reviews

'April Fools' gets the wrong end of the practical-joke schtick

by Mark Schilling

Special To The Japan Times

The Japanese film industry has themed many movies around that imported holiday, Christmas, or, more specifically, Christmas Eve, which has become Japan’s date night of date nights. Even those outside the local film industry now celebrate special days that originated elsewhere, including Halloween, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and, as Junichi Ishikawa’s new feel-good film makes clear from its title, April Fool’s Day.

Ishikawa and scriptwriter Ryota Kosawa, who teamed up on the hit “Legal High” drama series for Fuji TV, have made that rarity: a Japanese commercial film based on an original story, unfolding entirely on April Fool’s Day.

“April Fools,” however, is not what a film based on this theme might have become in Hollywood: overgrown boys dreaming up wacky stunts, with unintended or even (if we are talking about black comedy or horror) deadly consequences. Instead, it defines April 1 as “the one day in the year when it’s all right to lie” and gives its seven stories mostly serious spins. This follows the local custom of changing foreign cultural imports to serve local needs — in this case the need to jerk audience tears using tried-and-true TV-drama methods. There are plot twists aplenty, but none of the laugh-riot “Gotcha!” variety — and none that are really surprising, unless you are unfamiliar with the above-mentioned methods.

April Fools
Rating
Run Time 120 mins
Language Japanese
Opens now showing

One plot thread begins with the shy, slovenly Ayumi (Erika Toda) gorging on snacks on her rumpled bed as she calls Wataru (Tori Matsuzaka), with whom she had a one-night stand, to tell him she is pregnant with his child. Thinking it’s a bad joke, this slick seducer blows her off and turns his attention to the leggy, gorgeous Reiko (Nanao), his date of the moment — but an enraged Ayumi invades the fancy Italian restaurant where they are exchanging sweet nothings.

Another thread concerns an elderly couple (Kotaro Satomi and Sumiko Fuji) belonging to the Imperial family who ask their befuddled driver (Kenichi Takito) to take them to his favorite hamburger joint. Chaos ensues as the excited owner (Arata Furuta) and flustered waitress (Haruka Kinami) realize who the couple are.

Still another centers on a quick-fisted gangster (Susumu Terajima) and his slow-witted underling (Tsutomu Takahashi) who kidnap a rebellious tween girl (Minami Hamabe) but make no ransom demand. Meanwhile, her mother (Sayaka Yamaguchi) sees a sketch of the first gangster based on witness descriptions and recognizes a familiar face. Soon after, a wild-haired alcoholic detective (Masanobu Takashima) is dealing with a fraudulent old fortuneteller (Lily) when he gets a call about the kidnapping from a pal and thinks it’s an April Fool’s gag.

Other minor plot lines intertwine: A long-missing fisherman (Katsuhisa Namase) and his childhood friend (Masako Chiba) reunite after 42 years in the midst of a media storm. A lonely, bullied boy (Seishuu Uragami) becomes convinced he is a space alien, about to return to the mother ship. And two college roomies (Masataka Kubota and Masato Yano) learn life-changing truths about each other.

This may sound like a complicated story, but Ishikawa and Kosawa try to keep things as simple and stereotyped as possible, following that cardinal rule of local dramas: Everyone, even the lying-est of liars, is revealed as nice and good and warm-hearted by the credit crawl, as the audience sobs in sympathy — and relief.

Except maybe for one cranky critic, who fended off boredom trying to guess the truth behind the various lies or, in some cases, “lies.” He also thought of slipping an April Fool’s gag or two into his review, but that, he decided, wouldn’t be fair. Today is April 2.