Junya Sakino’s Sake-Bomb offers us a multi-cultural, occasionally naughty, comedy road trip of discovery across America, as our Japanese central character Naoto (Gaku Hamada) visits the country to seek his long lost love. Escapades of sex and drink ensure that sometimes he finds himself lost in translation.
Naoto apparently has everything going for him, his boss has just given him the sake making factory where he works and a week off before he has to knuckle down to serious factory ownership for the rest of his life. And Naoto knows exactly how he’s going to spend that week. He seeks his former girlfriend, his English teacher, and he hopes that their romance can blossom again even after many years apart. She is living in America so he heads off to his American-Japanese cousin Sebastian (Eugene Kim) who reluctantly agrees to help him in his search for his old love. Sebastian is a hedonistic internet video-blogger who introduces his cousin to his version of American life and excess, including the somewhat bad-on-the-sobriety Sake-bomb: a shot of sake dropped from chopsticks into a glass of beer with inevitably intoxicating results. The two of them travel through California in an attempt to seek girls (for Sebastian) and one specific girl (for Naoto), with the usual troublesome consequences.
Sake-Bomb’s aim is to be a popularist gross-out modern teen comedy and, as such, provides its own multi-cultural take on the inevitable scenarios and plot devices from a variety of cinematic peers. Think Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000) for teen road trip and sex, The Hangover (2009) for the alcohol and Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies (2004) for any cross-cultural confusions. As a result your enjoyment of the film is largely going to be based upon your enjoyment of the genre as, despite its welcome concept of cross nation funding and integration together with good performances from its cast, it is still – at heart – a crass single concept comedy.
A complete contrast to Sake-Bomb, Ryohei Watanabe’s Shady, as its title suggests, is a much darker affair and is the more rewarding of the two films. It seems to be raining a lot in the world of Misa. She’s a lonely student who is struggling with school-life, frequently taunted by the girls in her class and has issues with the teachers concerning her attendance and achievement. It seems that her only real friends are her budgerigar and the goldfish she looks after at the school biology club – a club with a member of just one person. Human friendship finally seems to call when one of the students in her class goes missing. The missing girl’s friend, Izumi, suddenly seems to take to the frequently mocked Misa and they slowly become friends. But Izumi, for all her initial friendliness, is hiding a dark secret and Misa becomes an unwitting accomplice to her plans.
Shady is a high-school drama that take its time to reveal its ultimate purpose. Misa is shy and perceived as ugly by her peers and herself. She doesn’t do much to endear herself to the other students – they nickname her Pooh – and, like her goldfish pet, she clearly is a fish out of water. She is naturally cautious about forming a friendship with Izumi and the way their tentative companionship develops forms a significant part of the running time. The premise becomes genuinely upsetting as drama unfolds into artistic horror and the series of final revelations offer a welcome combination of originality and familiarity. Beautifully shot, characterised and acted, Shady is essential viewing.
Sake-Bomb and Shady are showing at the Raindance Festival on 28th September.