“Perfect Strangers,” the 2016 hit Italian comedy, had inspired 18 remakes by July 2019, a feat recognized by Guinness World Records.
The four versions of the film I’ve seen — Korean, French, Japanese and the original by Paolo Genovese — are all entertaining enough. But the setup — three couples and one single man agree to share each other’s smartphone text and voice messages as a sort of “truth or dare” game at a dinner party — is hardly groundbreaking, if clever. A compromising email is just a modern version of a letter that elicits laughs when read aloud on stage, a convention going back to Plautus, the Neil Simon of ancient Rome.
That said, the original award-winning script co-written by Genovese is a marvel of plotting, invention and compression, with hardly a misfire or dead spot. In remake terms, that makes the story idiot-proof.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||101 mins.|
Not that the director or scriptwriter of the Japanese remake, “Otona no Jijo” (which translates to “Adult Situations”), are inept. A veteran of dramas for Fuji TV and Kyodo Television, director Michio Mitsuno manages the film’s transitions — from twisty farce to teary relationship drama and back again — smoothly enough even when they take hairpin turns.
Meanwhile, scriptwriter Yoshikazu Okada thoroughly localizes the original story while not departing too far from its hit-making core. His approach reminded me of “The Gentle Twelve,” the 1991 Japanese version of Sidney Lumet’s classic courtroom drama, “12 Angry Men” (1957). In Koki Mitani’s script, 12 jury members start with only one believing in the defendant’s guilt, but they finally attain a happy state of wa (harmony). In other words, “Otona no Jijo” strikes heartwarming, “we are one” notes absent in the cynical Italian original, with its conclusion that some lies between couples and friends can be a good thing — and even a necessity.
The film begins with guests assembling for a private party at a cozy restaurant managed by Koji Mukai (Yasushi Fuchikami), the doting husband to An (Haruka Kinami), a sweet and naive veterinarian. Also present are Eri (Honami Suzuki) and Takashi Rokko (Toru Masuoka), the former a TV-celebrity psychiatrist and the latter a plastic surgeon. A few rungs down the status ladder, as well as about a decade younger in age, are the Sonoyamas: feisty housewife Kaoru (Takako Tokiwa) and pudgy paralegal Reiji (Hiromasa Taguchi).
Finally, there is Sanpei Koyama (Noriyuki Higashiyama), a high-strung cram school teacher who arrives minus his date, to the disappointment of the other guests. His nervous excuses don’t ring true, but when the smartphone game begins — initiated by An — it’s Reiji who is the first to get the cold sweats. Inviting Sanpei for a cigarette break outside, Reiji asks him to switch phones, which are the same model. The reason: He is expecting a risque photo from a woman. If the single Sanpei is caught with it, Reiji can avoid a marital catastrophe.
As it turns out, the phones reveal that all seven dinner guests have something to hide, but the story is more than the sum of its laughs as embarrassing secrets spill out. Learning truths about each other, the guests at this party from hell accuse and lament, but they also come to accept and forgive.
How they arrive at this point may seem contrived, as does the incident that first brings them together (which is purely Okada’s invention). The climax, however, is quintessentially Japanese. Think authentic Neapolitan pizza slathered with feel-good Kewpie mayonnaise.