Popran (ポプラン, Shinichiro Ueda, 2022)

“Wieners are stuck to the body, they can’t go flying!” a confused father attempts to convince his toddler son, but as the young boy had said that isn’t quite the case. The hero of Shinichiro Ueda’s Popran (ポプラン) has been, well, to put it bluntly, a bit of a dick to just about everyone in his life but when even his bits seem to have become tired of his schtick it can’t help but provide something of a wakeup call. More surrealist morality drama than scatological comedy, Popran’s heart at least is in the right place as its hero attempts to, literally, piece himself back together to repair his fractured integrity. 

As we first meet 30-ish entrepreneur Tagami (Yoji Minagawa ), he’s being interviewed for a documentary that wants to explore the real lives of well-known people. As might be expected, the opening questions are fawning, pointing out his vast success at such a young age as the developer of app and manga publishing platform but the atmosphere soon changes when they stray into less positive territory. It seems Tagami’s success might have come as a result of betraying his old friend and business partner, while he also abandoned his wife and child to chase success in Tokyo and apparently has become estranged from his parents. His well-meaning PR shuts down the interviewer’s attempts to ask anything remotely challenging, yet it’s obvious that something inside Tagami is dying even as he reads out a cheesy speech he’d written about the importance of following the compass of your heart from a cue card held up by his assistant. 

We can see what kind of man he is or has been when an excited employee approaches him in the corridor about an exciting project but, feigning politeness, he has to ask his assistant who the guy was once he’s gone. At a birthday party for one of their writers, he leers over a woman sitting behind him and offers to introduce her to their editing department when she tells him she’s interested in writing something herself despite his clearly stated policy of not running original material only buying rights to distribute perennially popular series. It’s after taking her to bed with false promises that he discovers his penis is missing. 

More than a symbol of his masculinity, the errant penis is an indictor of his misplaced desires and lack of both moral fibre and impulse control. To achieve success he’s screwed over countless people besides the young woman who seems to have been the last straw for his literally alienated genitalia leaving a trail emotional chaos in his wake. After discovering that he is not the only one to fall victim to the “Popran” phenomenon he is forced to face himself, his moral cowardice, anxieties, and fears, and reckon with his sense of inadequacy and disappointment. Just as in the message he’d delivered to the youngsters watching the documentary, he too needs to take a look at the compass of his heart and realise he’s been reading it wrong chasing down his penis with a butterfly net before realising he knew where it was all along he just needed to go back to where it all started and remember who he really is. 

Then again, there is perhaps something of frustrated masculinity in Tagami’s quest. As his friend point out, he makes all his money exploiting other people’s labour while offering nothing new of his own. In the interview, he’d said he wanted to be a mangaka but felt he wasn’t good enough so decided to become a distributor instead setting up the company with a colleague from the manga cafe where he was working. But they parted ways because his friend wanted to publish original material and with his eye on the bottom line Tagami forced him out. Where his friend is now running a small studio from his apartment and even while not wealthy creatively fulfilled, Tagami has become rich but empty. Obviously that’s not to say there’s no value in the kind of work he does, but he’s begun to appropriate others’ success as his own with no real thought for their well-being. Chasing his dick around is also in its way a desire to regain his creative mojo as symbolised in his re-energised commitment to publishing original material rather than simply raking in royalties from safe and stable classics.  

As is often pointed out to him, his fantastical tale sounds like something out of a manga though Popran is certainly less reflexive than Ueda’s previous efforts telling a story which is much smaller in scale though also in its way heartwarming as the hero is pulled around by the penises of past and present if not future before reaching a moment of emotional maturity that allows him to exercise a more healthy control over his desires knocking his dickish behaviour on the head to wise up and realise being a man’s about treating others with respect and dignity. Some things you can’t just stick back on if they fall off, but you can at least acknowledge that you should have treated them better and resolve to be happy that they have at least found better futures as you might yourself if only you can figure out which compass to follow. 


Popran streams in Germany until 6th June as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Images: Ⓒ ”Popran” Film Partners

Will I Be Single Forever? (ずっと独身でいるつもり?, Momoko Fukuda, 2021)

If you can achieve financial independence in the contemporary society, then what is or should be the primary purpose of and motivation for marriage, what does it mean, should you want it at all or is it merely an outdated institution designed to keep women in their place by making them dependent on men? Adapted from the manga by Mari Okazaki, Momoko Fukuda’s Will I Be Single Forever? (ずっと独身でいるつもり?, Zutto Dokushin de Iru Tsumori?) finds a series of young women asking just these questions wondering why it is everyone themselves included is still intent on viewing marriage and motherhood as the only markers of success as if none of their other achievements really matter if they’re going to write spinster of this parish on their headstone. 

10 years previously the now 36-year-old Mami (Jun Hashizume) shot to stardom penning a best-selling book about how it isn’t a sin to be single and the worst thing isn’t to be alone but to settle for less solely to escape loneliness. These days, however, she’s beginning to wonder, growing fearful of what it might mean to spend the rest of her life alone and worrying she’s about to miss the marriage boat witnessing it pass by passively without making a concrete decision of her own. Expressing her views on a talk show where “the troubled women of today are slapped with harsh reality”, Mami disappoints some of her longtime fans who found validation in her book reassured that there was nothing wrong in their desire to live independently rather than get married right after college and become regular housewives. Yet they are also ageing and facing the same dilemma, wondering if their life choices are really OK or if they’re missing out on a family life by refusing to settle for Mr. Almost-Right. 

The film’s English-language title flips the Japanese as if the question is self-directed, the women asking themselves when Mr. Right’s going to come along or worrying about the consequences if he never shows up, while the Japanese is more like the dreaded question every young woman is asked by an invasive female relative at a family gathering reminding her she’s not getting any younger and will end up alone if she’s not careful. Meanwhile, Mami is reminded that women who’ve bought their own apartments seldom marry, men aren’t interested in women who can be financially independent and don’t need to rely on them for economic support as Yukino’s (Miwako Ichikawa) longterm boyfriend explains breaking up with her immediately before moving in together as it turns out right next to Mami though she doesn’t know it as she takes out her frustrations online through an embittered anonymous Twitter account. 

For her, the point of marriage is supposed be escaping loneliness yet as her school friend Ayaka (Eri Tokunaga) will testify marriage can be the loneliest thing of all. Her husband is happy to play with the baby but hands it back every time it cries or needs changing unwilling to engage with the less fun sides of marriage or parenthood. Husbands are emotionally absent and rarely help at home, Ayaka’s trying to be helpful by taking the baby to the park so that she can focus on her chores both leaving her out of their fun and reinforcing the idea the home is all her responsibility and none his. “Don’t end up like me” Mami’s mother (Mariko Tsutsui) advises instantly seeing that her decision to marry casual boyfriend Kohei (Yu Inaba) just because he asked is doomed to end in failure, warning her that you have to “be ready to live alone” even if you marry, “no good comes of being a slave to a husband” she adds uttering the unthinkable in trying to warn her daughter of the realities of a patriarchal marriage. 

And as it turns out though five years younger vacuous rich kid Kohei is a patriarchal man whose friends all praise him for being brave and understanding in marrying an older woman while he pats himself on the back for being progressive in granting her permission to continue using her maiden name professionally after they marry. When they go to meet his conservative parents he criticises her outfit for making her look “old” while he’s worn shorts to a fancy restaurant and then orders a ridiculous green soda drink, forcing Mami to go along with his mother’s prodding that she’ll give up work when they marry to devote herself to childrearing though he’d also refused to attend a fertility/genetic screening session Mami had recommended on the grounds that it’s unnecessary because he’s a man as if childbirth is only a female concern and only women can have fertility issues or potential problems in their medical history. The more she tries to voice her worries the more he overrules her, the final straw coming as he refuses to listen to her anxiety about getting behind the wheel of a car, generally unnecessary in Tokyo, having previously been involved in an accident. She begins to wonder why it’s so important to follow the “correct path” even if it brings you no happiness solely in order to avoid people asking you with barely suppressed pity if you’re going to be single forever. 

The question comes from an older era in which it was it was near impossible for a woman to survive without a husband, but now that she can why should she put up with poor treatment and restrictions on her freedom if she is perfectly capable of supporting herself? Much younger than the others, sugar baby / professional socialite Miho (Sayuri Matsumura) meanwhile has gone the other way in trying live off men without the constraints of marriage only to find herself hamstrung by patriarchal expectations once again in having failed to realise that her lifestyle has an expiration date while she’s painted herself into a corner with no qualifications or work experience at the age of 26. The bulk of her business model is already rooted in the selling of other younger, prettier women as party guests for wealthy men and the consequences of continuing down that path are largely unpalatable to her. 

Touched by a further TV update from Mami, each of the women has a kind of epiphany that allows them to move forward into happier lives reassuring them that it’s alright to ask for more and they don’t have to hold any part of themselves back to meet the outdated expectations of traditional femininity, even Miho finding another way of harnessing the skills she does have to achieve true independence. The answer is not a total rejection of marriage or committed relationships but a reacknowledgment that to marry or not should be their own choice based on their own happiness rather than something you have to get over with to avoid the social stigma of becoming an old maid. A relatable exploration of the lives of young women in the contemporary society Fukuda’s empathetic drama eventually advances that in the end the best cure for loneliness is female solidarity in the face of a still overwhelmingly patriarchal society. 


Will I Be Single Forever? streams in the US until March 27 as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-up Cinema

International trailer (English subtitles)