Koki Mitani has been a one-man comedy factory for nearly four decades, with a long list of plays, TV dramas and films to his credit. Among his 11 features are the 1991 courtroom comedy “The Gentle Twelve,” which he scripted, and the 1997 “Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald,” his directorial debut. Both were clever and slick, in the style of Mitani’s idols Neil Simon and Billy Wilder, but their humanism is also recognizably Japanese.
Somewhere along the way, his films became dull and predictable. The nadir was “Galaxy Turnpike” (2015), a sci-fi comedy so excruciating that I thought I was witnessing a creative meltdown. The comedy factory had become the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
But in “Hit Me Anyone One More Time,” a political comedy based on his original script, Mitani has made a comeback, if not a triumphant one.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||127 mins.|
After a fast-paced, sharp-edged start, the film becomes bogged down in sitcom-like sentimentalism as it ties every plot strand into a neat bow. But it’s also entertaining right to the half-cynical end. Instead of cringing, I found myself grinning as Mitani pulled one plot rabbit after another out of his hat — or rather his still nimble brain.
The film’s hero is Keisuke Kuroda (Kiichi Nakai), a poor sap who wakes up in a hospital bed with all but his memories of youth wiped out. After a farcical escape and frantic pursuit by large men in suits, Kuroda is captured — and told he is the prime minister. Someone hit him on the forehead with a rock while he was making a speech and knocked him cold. The nation is not exactly gripped with worry and fear, as Kuroda has the lowest approval rating of any prime minister in history.
Instead of resigning, Kuroda decides to do a better job with his rebooted life. He has the support of his three secretaries — the all-business Isaka (Dean Fujioka) and Banba (Eiko Koike) and the goof-off Nonomiya (Takaya Sakoda) — but has to face his estranged wife (Yuriko Ishida) and rebellious teenage son (Tatsuomi Hamada). It doesn’t help that he mistakes the maid for the former and keeps mixing up the first name of the latter.
All funny enough, made funnier by frequent Mitani collaborator Nakai, who plays Kuroda as a permanently flummoxed but decent and determined sort. He begins by apologizing to all and sundry, but soon sees the true lay of the personal and political landscape, from sexual infidelities to under-the-table payoffs.
As usual with Mitani, the cast of characters is large and the plot turns many, with the gags broad, if sometimes topical. Yo Yoshida plays a white-suited, PM-hectoring version of real-life opposition leader Renho Murata, but like many supporting characters she is a two-dimensional cartoon and, for reasons I can’t disclose, a rather offensive one.
Also, unlike the similarly political film “The Journalist,” Mitani’s comedy doesn’t target the present leader and his party. Instead, Kuroda is a Japanese version of Jimmy Stewart’s idealistic senator in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” That is, he does the right moral thing and makes the right sort of enemies. He also stands up foursquare for Japan, even against a formidable female Japanese-American president (Yoshino Kimura) who is, no surprise, a caricature of the pushy, loud-mouthed Yank.
But at least she doesn’t have orange hair.