Director: Hideki Takeuchi
Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Aya Ueto, Kazuki Kitamura, Kai Shishido, Masachika Ichimura
Based on the hit manga by Mari Yamazaki, Thermae Romae follows an unsuccessful Roman architect named Lucius (Hiroshi Abe). Lacking inspiration he suddenly finds himself transported through time to modern Japan. Finding the modern advancements and technology used in Japanese baths, upon his return to Ancient Rome, Lucius uses his experience to recreate the conveniences to great acclaim. When it turns out that his trip wasn’t to be a single occurrence, he is constantly updating Roman baths with his subsequent ‘visits.’ Making acquaintances with a young woman (Aya Ueto) follow Lucius’ journey through both the confusing modern era and the cutthroat political system of Ancient Rome.
Director Hideki Takeuchi takes one of the most unique premises in manga and made an amazingly entertaining comedy. Hiroshi Abe is hilarious as the man out of time and his reactions to modern appliances and innovations are both funny and believable. His adaptations of the future technology are ingenious and hilarious in their own right. Actress Ueto is as cute as always, but definitely has more to do in the final half. She’s important to the story and flow, but with her character only in one time period for the film, she has less opportunity than Abe to make an impact. Rounding out the cast is a group of familiar faces with Kazuki Kitamura standing out for his extremely sleazy portrayal of Ceionius. Of note is that principle Romans are portrayed by Japanese actors though the majority of other Romans are played by Westerners. It is an odd mix but you forget about it after Lucius’ first trip.
The film looks good with surprisingly large sets for the Roman-set scenes and good choices for the Japanese sequences. Set direction is solid and costumes are stereotypical but serve their purpose. With the film’s premise and pedigree, you can’t expect a startling level of realism, but what is there adds to the film rather than taking away from it. There are numerous visual effects shots that are well done and definitely add to the experience. I particularly liked the dream sequences Lucius goes through when experiencing Japanese baths.
Thermae Romae is an odd little comedy that features a weird little premise and delivers a very enjoyable picture. It is very funny and the strength of the film lies in the very compelling performance of Abe as Lucius. Filled with a lot of heart and winning direction, Thermae Romae is one of the most unique Japanese comedies that I’ve had the pleasure to see. Absolutely worth a watch, or two, see it for a heck of a good time.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Bubble Fiction, Stereo Future, Swing Girls, and/or Surely Someday