Director: Tomoyuki Takimoto
Starring: Maki Sakai, Tatsuya Fujii, Takahiro Hishijima, Mariko Koga, Sei Hiraizumi
Rui (Maki Sakai) has spent her entire life being raised and living with her loving Aunt Toba (Mariko Kaga). They live a simple and carefree life in their homey and old house. When Toba suddenly decides to get married, she leaves the house, and Rui, all alone. Now forced to live by herself, Rui somehow makes the acquaintance of painter Tony Tanaka (Tatsuya Fuji) and the ever smiling Kosuke (Takahiro Nishijima), a friend of a friend. Coming up with a solution to her problem of an empty house, the three decide to live together. As the three strangers come to enjoy life in this unique family, they realize that the lives of seemingly ordinary people can mesh together in some dramatic and funny ways.
A generally low key comedy, Soup Opera takes a slow and measured pace in telling the story of this unusual trio. Comedy is certainly at the fore, but relies mostly on situational humor and the very funny, but not extreme reactions of Sakai. With films like this you would expect that drama would take over in the final act, but while present, the comedy remains the focus. It’s a soft comedy, very reminiscent of other Japanese films like Love Letter, or Hana and Alice, but without the dramatic backing that those films employ.
Sakai is very good as Rui, she has excellent facial expressions and physical reactions and she’s a good lead and the audience’s eyes for the picture. Nishijima is decent, but seems to lack a fully developed character when in comparison with Sakai and Fuji. He is quite important story wise though, and much of the film’s dramatic elements involve him in the final act. Fuji however is terrific. Consistently great, Fuji brings his experience and natural screen presence to the film and every choice he makes seems to be perfect for the film. He’s certainly learned much from his many years in the business and he is not one to disappoint. The extended cast is populated with some unique characters though the three roommates are the main draw of the film.
Set in postcard-esque town, the film has a very intimate feel to the proceedings. Realistically populated sets and a beautiful house give the film the feel of a human family drama. The music is very good with nice lighthearted music playing throughout. There is a storytelling device used that uses music very well and it was uniquely Japanese to see it. Evocative of Hisaishi, the score is well composed and fits the film beautifully.
In the end, Soup Opera plays out like a nice little slice-of-life comedy. Never letting things get too serious, it has a comforting and smooth pace that, while not over the top, should put more than a few smirks on your face. Not without faults; the endings drags a bit and there is no focused story, Soup Opera is a solid drama that won’t necessarily have you falling in love with it, but is hard to dislike in anyway. With its look at human nature as a social creature, as well as the necessity of interaction and love, this movie should satisfy those looking for more lighthearted low stakes fare.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: April Story, comedic bits in Shunji Iwai films, and mellow storytelling.