Director: Satoshi Miki
Starring: Juri Ueno, Yu Aoi, Jun Kaname, Masato Ibu, Yutaka Matsushige, Ryo Iwamatsu, Eri Fuse
Following her breakthrough performance in the great, and personal favorite, Swing Girls, Juri Ueno takes on the unconventional comedy, “Turtles Swim Faster than Expected” from director Satoshi Miki. Housewife Suzume (Juri Ueno) is bored of the routine hum-drum existence she has been living. When she unexpectedly finds an advertisement looking for ‘Spies’, she answers it not knowing what to expect. What she discovers is a network of spies in her very town that blend in through their normalcy, something in which Suzume has become adept. As she undergoes training for normalcy, she discovers a new fulfillment in the things she took for granted when looking through it with a spies’ eyes.
Juri Ueno is great in the film; her facial expressions, narration, and comic timing are spot on. The amount she is willing to put herself out in the film is especially welcome considering how high her star has risen in the years since. Yu Aoi is good but under utilized, she has a few scant scenes but she is always outshone by Juri Ueno. She is a much more wild character than many of her other roles which is a unique change of pace for fans of her work, I am one of them. Supporting roles are okay as well, though there are some great scenes which feature Ryo Iwamatsu and Eri Fuse as the spying couple who take Suzume under their wing. These two steal every scene they are in and the addition of character actor Yutaka Matsushige is welcome at anytime.
Production is definitely low budget with what looks to be natural lighting in most scenes and what has to have been a quick shooting schedule. This adds a bit to the indie charm but the fact that it looks like it was shot on Digital Video and has the look of V-cinema may turn many viewers off. Music is generally non-existent until close to the film’s end, but it isn’t a big deal considering how dialogue or visual jokes fill up every minute of screen time. Overall, it’s distracting at first, but less so as the film goes on.
Director Satoshi Miki has to wrangle a lot of talent; from young newcomers to veterans and everything in between. There is something to be said about his ability to get such name talent in his films, even if his work never seems to each a large audience. He corrals his actors with numerous intimate shots and appropriately comedic pull backs for a pretty interesting film visually. Of course since the film is heavily dialogue driven the majority of the film is shot statically, but there is enough variance in shots to keep things interesting. Like the work of Wes Anderson in the United States, his work is quite niche, but for those that get it, it can be a nice film going experience.
Turtles… is a tough film to review; partially because there is little to no story or plot and secondly because the oddness of the film will turn off many who would view the film because of the talent involved. Its quirky, off the wall comedy is more subtle and oddly Japanese than I think most Western viewers will get, though the absurdity of some jokes are universally understood. Juri Ueno turns in a winning performance but Yu Aoi is woefully underused, especially considering how prominently her name is marketed. It’s an odd little film that showcases an odd mentality which is not for everyone, but may be worth a look for those wanting to watch a Japanese comedy that is clean but still vastly different from what the mainstream offers.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Maiko Haaaaan!!! or Install