Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Starring: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Carlos C. Torres
Hitoshi Matsumoto, one of Japan’s most popular comedians, stars, produces and directs Symbol, a comedic and meta-physical mish-mash that is his follow-up to his acclaimed and Cannes Film Festival screened film, Big Man Japan. As a huge fan of the aforementioned film and as one who lists Gaki no Tsukai as among the most entertaining comedy series ever, I had great expectations for his next work.. Popularly know for his comedy as part of the comedy group Downtown and his work in the Gaki no Tsukai series, Matsumoto hopes to surpass in his sophomore effort.
The film is told in two wildly varying and interchanging segments; one taking place in Mexico featuring a young boy (Torres) cheering on his father, a luchadore, who is about to take part in a championship match, and that of the surreal world where Matsumoto himself, playing an unnamed Japanese man who wakes up in a white room where from which he tries to escape.
The scenes in Mexico take place in the real world and interestingly enough feature many of the hallmarks of classic Japanese dramatic film; lingering shots, slow pans, and forced perspectives to tell the story of the boy, Antonio, looking to cheer his father in his match. These scenes more leisurely and the match itself is actually pretty entertaining. Honestly, the performances in the ‘real’ world are good, but once you are introduced to the other ‘room’ scenes, you find that they drag and at first you are unsure as to their importance.
The sequences featuring Matsumoto himself are vastly different, with his segments taking place in the surreal world of the room. Upon waking, he finds himself in the white room surrounded by what looks to be small cherub phalluses. Yeah, I know. Anyway, each of those acts like a switch, where a press will deliver something for his use, some important and others not so much. As he learns the rules of his situation he tries to use his tools to escape amidst many comedic failures.
This is definitely the highlight of the film for me, as the use of fantastic special effects and the comedic wits of Matsumoto keep the jokes coming at brisk pace. Since he is alone, the brunt of the comedy is physical and Matsumoto seems to act like an animated character come to life, complete with drastic facial expressions and exaggerated postures. Towards the end of the film, the story takes a turn towards the Meta with these two drastically different worlds eventually intersecting. This sequence will divide viewers, but I personally thought it was earned.
In the end, I thought that Symbol was a pretty entertaining film and an interesting effort by Matsumoto. It is funny, wild, and so far out of what most viewers are used to, that it most definitely is not for everyone. However, anyone who views this film will be unable to say that it isn’t unique. I will be on the lookout for his next film, Saya Zamurai with baited breath.
You may enjoy this film if you enjoyed: Big Man Japan, Groundhog Day, What the BLEEP