Afro Tanaka (2012)

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afro tanaka poster

Director: Daigo Matsui

Starring: Shota Matsuda, Nozomi Sasaki, Kanama Endo, Tanaka Kei

114 Minutes

Sporting a natural Afro hairstyle, Tanaka (Shota Matsuda) is a high school dropout with a dead end job and no girlfriend. When a close friend from high school becomes engaged, he recalls a promise made within that tight circle that said that they have to introduce their girlfriends before the first of them get married. As a lifelong virgin, Tanaka decides to step it into overgear in his quest for a girlfriend as the day of the wedding fast approaches. As his search results in a number of embarrassing escapades, he remains oblivious to the fact that his highly attractive neighbor (Nozomi Sasaki) is interested.

Hilarious and quirky, Daigo Matsui’s debut feature film is highlighted by a hugely entertaining performance by the sarcastic and sardonic Matsuda. His character’s pure naivety is like watching a series of train wrecks heralded by a massive dome of hair. Rubber faced and ridiculous, he is still an entertaining lead, even if he doesn’t deserve anywhere near the amount of minor luck he gets. Nozomi Sasaki is radiant as the next door neighbor Aya; she is gorgeous and realistic, and her puppy dog crush is endearing. While her character plays it straight amongst all the oddity surrounding Tanaka, she perhaps is the only ‘real’ character in the film. With history and some decent characterization she delivers a hugely likable performance. Tanaka’s friends; played by Tanaka Kei, Kaname Endo, Atsumi Tsutsumishita, and Ryusuke Komakine match with Tanaka well. They are just as troublesome and ridiculous as our titular hero, but only slightly more together.

The crux of the film, and perhaps of the source manga by Noritsuke Masaharu, lies in the friendship shared between these five men. While life has sent them on different paths, their friendship remains present and is the strongest relationship each of them has developed. It’s difficult to approximate it to American terms, bromance is hardly telling of their levels of camaraderie, but it’s similar to a bond of brotherhood.

The films looks and sound great with an expressive score and solid vocal performances. Photography utilizes a number of long cuts and natural reactions which at times feel like a third person observation. I particularly liked the final scene between Sasaki and Matsuda; it’s quiet, human, and surprisingly powerful drama considering the tone of most of the film. Of course, the film is a comedy foremost, and this particular scene ends in a dryly hilarious climax. It is definitely a film that requires multiple viewings to catch all the subtleties.

Quirky and one heck of a unique experience, Afro Tanaka features terrific comedy and some great performances by some young talent. While I expect it to be divisive among viewers, much like the way the work of Wes Anderson or Hitoshi Matsumoto does, for my money it is terrifically entertaining and unique enough for the seasoned filmgoer. Recommended.

You may enjoy this film if you liked: Linda Linda Linda, Surely Someday, and/or Ping Pong

 

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Long time film lover and occasional writer. I watch anything and everything though I have massive love for the works of Shunji Iwai, Jackie Chan, Johnnie To, and Kinji Fukasaku. POP! POP!

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