Wonderful Paradise (脳天パラダイス, Masashi Yamamoto, 2020)

A moribund Tokyo mansion becomes the scene for an orgy of life, death, love, and rebirth in Masashi Yamamoto’s surrealist party movie Wonderful Paradise (脳天パラダイス, Noten Paradise). Sometimes you have to learn to say goodbye and move on, other times you have to learn to forgive and let go of past resentment. Of course, sometimes you have to do both of those things at the same time, which is perhaps appropriate for the former home of the Sasayas which seems to exist between the realms of life and death, a perpetual Bon festival where departed spirits and lost souls congregate for one almighty party. 

Dad Shuji (Seiko Ito) has had a run of bad luck and unfortunately lost the family home he inherited from his parents meaning he and his two adult children, son Yuta (Soran Tamoto) and daughter Akane (Mayu Ozawa), are having to move on though who knows where to. Resentful that she’s having her life uprooted by her father’s fecklessness, Akane takes to social media and Tweets that there’s a party at hers and everyone’s invited as kind of goodbye to the house. Meanwhile, a series of strange events occur from a weird old monk (Akira Emoto) who keeps trying to pray to the various neoclassical statues on the property going nuts at a belligerent removal man and then apparently dropping dead, to the resurfacing of mother Akiko (Kaho Minami) who apparently left the family some years previously for a man who ran a coffee shop but has since passed away. 

The first people to arrive for the party are a gay couple looking for somewhere to celebrate their marriage, a minor irony in that the event will later descend into an elaborate funeral for two people who may or may not be dead. As more and more guests arrive, along with a series of opportunistic commercial food stands and other businesses, the party begins to get out of hand becoming ever stranger as the night wears on. 

At the heart of it all are the tensions in the family, an unresolved resentment directed at son Yuta who is, according to his brash aunt Yuka (Sonomi Hoshino), overly preoccupied with his family circumstances to the extent that it prevents him from getting a regular job and moving on with his life. Shuji has quite clearly failed both as a son and as a father, eventually betting one of his dad’s precious antiques in a card game run by yakuza loansharks setting up shop in the house. Akane appears exasperated, but is also harbouring an intense resentment towards Akiko for her abandonment that prevents her being able to “move on” from her former family home. 

Moving on is also a problem for a few of the ghosts, the line between the living and the dead becoming increasingly blurred. One random surreal moment to the next, Yamamoto careers between absurdist episodes culminating in a fight between a murderous sentient coffee bean and a statue come to life. What began as a lowkey wedding eventually becomes a bizarre funeral enacted through the medium of Bollywood song and dance transitioning into a traditional enka festival number all of which happens before a couple of hapless crooks who’ve been operating a drug factory on the family’s property for the last two years without them ever knowing turn up with their “super mandala drug of paradise” to send the evening in a psychedelic direction. 

Yet for all the surreality of death, violence, sex, and rebirth when dawn arrives it brings with it a kind of calm brokering a new peace between friends and family members as they learn to accept each other and the past in an unburdened sense of openness. Possibly deceased monks, talking cats, kids who can’t figure out how to stop swinging and mysteriously turn themselves into sticks or dissolve in bath water, scorned lovers, unrepentant thieves, ghosts and family secrets descend on this weird gothic mansion in the middle of a city, creating a “wonderful paradise” for one night only filled with surrealist magic and unforgettable strangeness that nevertheless pushes the family back together through dream logic and a taste of the absurd. A weird, sometimes incomprehensible, journey into an etherial, psychedelic twilight psychodrama rave, Yamamoto’s charmingly bizarre nighttime odyssey is a law unto itself but one filled with wonder for the uncanniness of the everyday. 


Wonderful Paradise streamed as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

The Hardness of Avocado (アボカドの固さ, Masaya Jo, 2019)

“Reality might be bitter, but at least your coffee is sweet” according to the “gloomy” voiceover performed by aspiring actor Mizuki Maehara in Masaya Jo’s The Hardness of Avocado (アボカドの固さ, Avocado no Katasa). In many ways a tale of quarter-life inertia and youthful denial, Jo’s indie drama finds its struggling hero looking for the sweet spot, trying to grab the avocado at the opportune moment between rock hard and squishy mess but floundering in world which seems both continually confusing and perhaps inherently unfair. 

At 24, Mizuki (Mizuki Maehara) is a jobbing actor living with his sister (Zuru Onodera) in a small apartment. He’s been in a committed relationship with Shimi (Asami Taga) for the last five years and is already thinking about moving in together, asking her to help him pick out a sofa-bed after their date to the movies where she fell asleep and he ended up meeting a fan who recognised him from a previous film. Shimi, however, seems irritated, eventually answering Mizuki’s well meaning question about what she’d most like to do right now with the answer “break up”. In a pattern which will be repeated, Mizuki reacts somewhat petulantly, walking off with a “fine then” only to end up regretting it later. Unable to accept that Shimi is really ready to move on, he decides to give her (and himself) one month before, he assumes, they’ll get back together having each grown as people during their time apart. 

This baseless optimism and mild sense of self-centred entitlement are perhaps the very things that Mizuki is supposed to be outgrowing even as he struggles to get over Shimi. Having dated for five years, Mizuki took his relationship for granted, assuming it was settled and destined to go on forever. Shimi’s declaration comes as a complete surprise, shocking in its abruptness though we can see that she seems irritated by him and that it may be more than a temporary bad mood. She tells him that she needs “freedom” and time to herself, but it seems equally likely that, from her point of view, the relationship has simply run its course. Looking through his mementos, Mizuki finds a 20th birthday card from Shimi that promised she’d always be around to encourage him, but relationships entered in adolescence rarely survive the demands of adulthood and she, it seems, is after something more while all Mizuki seems to want is more of the same. 

Moping about the city, he engages in borderline misogynistic banter with his friends, occasionally irritating even them in his resentment towards a nerdy guy who has finally got a girlfriend. He finds himself applying for a job in a convenience store to make ends meet between auditions seated next to a pair of students who roll their eyes, mocking him for his lack of success as a man in his mid-20s still part-timing just like them. Meanwhile, he develops an unwise fondness for a woman he meets on a shoot, chatting her up at the afterparty but saying the quiet part out loud as he confesses his plan to have a fling while fully believing he’ll be getting back together with Shimi when the month is up. Despite the fact she has also told him she has a boyfriend, he suddenly declares his love to her, once again petulantly put out by her irritation as she points out how inappropriate he’s been seeing as all he’s done is talk about Shimi.

Shimi’s mother (Kumi Hyodo) can’t understand why she’d break up with someone as “nice” as Mizuki, and Mizuki is indeed “nice” if obviously imperfect, an earnest sort of man working hard to achieve his dreams, but she apparently wanted something less superficial, a more ”passionate and loving relationship” now that she’s outgrown adolescent romance. Mizuki is once again surprised when she brushes off his romantic overture, petulantly walking home while beginning to accept that something has indeed changed. Finally fastening the screws on his new chair (in lieu of the bed) he begins to regain some solo stability, a little more self-sufficient at least even if he still has some some growth to achieve on his own. A whimsical tale of millennial malaise and self-centred male entitlement, The Hardness of Avocado is a gentle advocation for learning to let go when something’s past its best while accepting that sometimes all you can do is set yourself right and start again. 


The Hardness of Avocado screened as part of Camera Japan 2020.

Original trailer (no subtitles)