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Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected

Posted under Japanese Movies by admin on Saturday 28 February 2009 at 00:50

Movie : Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected / Kame wa igai to hayaku oyogu
Release Date : July 2, 2005
Country : Japan
Director : Satoshi Miki
Starring : Juri Ueno, Yu Aoi, Ryo Iwamatsu
Runtime : 90 min

Movie Review

Juri Ueno, Yu Aoi and indie film helmer Satoshi Miki (In The Pool / Damaged) all working together in a film? How can one pass up an offering like that? I couldn’t. So much so that the first time I watched “Turtles Swim Surprisingly Fast” was at a Japanese Indie Film Festival held in Korea – without the benefit of subtitles. During the first viewing the lack of subtitles was a huge barrier to enjoying the film and eventually I ended up dozing through parts of the film. This time around subtitles were available and I felt all the better for it.

The movie stars Juri Ueno playing the role of Suzume Katakura. Suzume is a bored housewife that lives all alone while her husband works overseas. Her life is mundane enough that Suzume feels like she is leading an almost invisible existence. Her husband calls often but only to check up on his beloved pet turtle. One day Suzume decides to run up a flight of 100 stairs and during the middle of that run, she sees a trolley cart spill over along with the apples held in that cart. What’s a woman to do when an avalanche of apples are about barrel down your way? If you’re the quirky Suzume you lay down on the flight stairs and hold on for dear life.

After being pummeled by the falling apples Suzanne looks over at a nearby hand railing and notices a tiny stamp sized sticker placed on the bottom of a rail. The tiny stick advertises an opening position for “spies” with an interview being required. With Suzanne’s life being humdrum as it is she has nothing to lose and calls the mysterious phone number.

Three days later she goes for the interview and finds the location to be set within a modest apartment complex with an odd husband and wife couple conducting the interview. The couple claims to be a spies working for a foreign government. The couple looks over Suzume and believes she would fit in perfectly as a spy because of her nondescript appearance. The couple gives Suzume 5 million yen as an advance payment and thus she begins her new career as a spy.

The movie itself is set within a colorful world, reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” while having the quirky off-beat humor of Katsuhito Ishii’s “The Taste Of Tea”. What the film did well was to show how unique everyday life can really be. Suzume with her nondescript life (a lot like her pet turtle) finds out how interesting a “normally” life can be once she works as a spy. Her new job requires her to be as nondescript as possible and this is when the uniquely normal Suzume learns it’s not as easy as it would seem. From ordering dishes at restaurants that would not stand out to purchasing food in grocery stores that would be unmemorable to beating her futon cover in the normal kind of way. That’s not to say everything that Suzume did was your everyday kind of tasks. In fact the more memorable scenes were pure slapstick zaniness.

Highlights include Suzume getting into a sumo wrestling match with her father in his dirt filled backyard, her best friend Kujake (played by Yu Aoi) clothesline an opponent in a wrestling match, Suzume invents a fan that emits the sounds of the Northwest Wind and the after effects ofor Kujake after she cut the power lines at the local electrical station. Although Yu Aoi has a smaller supporting role in the film she does have several laugh out loud funny moments. None being more hilarious than her shouting match after winning a Seine netting trip.

While the pacing of the film is low-key there’s plenty of things to like about the film. The film has the quirky charm of Katsuhito Ishii films and features two of the better actresses today … Juri Ueno and Yu Aoi. Comedic moments come in spurts with many able to rise to the laugh out loud level and odd non-sequiturs that zing right on by. The end result is a charming film that portrays everyday life in the most unique way possible. Wei-Wei-Wei-Wei-Wei Azu-ki Pan-daaa Channnnnn.


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