OZLAND (オズランド 笑顔の魔法おしえます。, Takafumi Hatano, 2018)

A snooty elitist gains a new perspective after being unexpectedly transferred to an old school rural theme park in Takafumi Hatano’s heartwarming workplace dramedy Ozland (オズランド 笑顔の魔法おしえます。, Ozland: Egao no Mahou Oshiemasu). Echoing The Wizard of Oz’ Dorothy, Kurumi (Haru) suddenly discovers that she’s not in her familiar Tokyo anymore and is originally resentful, sullen, and aloof refusing to engage with her new coworkers while dismissive of their work but gradually comes to see that there was method in the madness realising the ways she herself has been petty and small-minded while all anyone wanted to do was make people happy. 

Kurumi’s problem is that she’s a hometown girl. She loved her city, her family, her friends, and most particularly her boyfriend Toshi (Tomoya Nakamura) even going so far as to get a job at the company where he works so they can be together all the time. Tragedy strikes when she’s abruptly transferred to a theme park in provincial Kumamoto, Toshio suggesting she go and make the most of the experience of living alone for the first time while they do long distance. Coming from straight-laced Tokyo she experiences a kind of culture shock especially as her eccentric supervisor, Mr. Ozuka (Hidetoshi Nishijima), chooses to haze her with a pretend bomb scare immediately on her arrival. Aside from that, it seems the boss (Akira Emoto) misread her name on her résumé (as it turns out, the main reason he hired her) so no matter how often she corrects them everyone keeps calling her “Namihei” rather “Namihira”, suggesting that it might be easier if she changed her name because they’ve already had it printed on all her things. 

In a way, the name dilemma hints at Kurumi’s sense of superiority over her new coworkers in that she refuses to simply let it go out of politeness, as well she might in refusing to allow them to get away with calling her by a name that’s easier for them without bothering to learn her own, but equally using it as more evidence of their lack of sophistication rather than deciding to see the funny side. Though she’s been hired as part of the planning department, Ozuka assigns her mostly menial tasks further fuelling her sense of resentment. She might have a point when she says she didn’t go to uni to pick up trash for a living, but obviously looks down on her coworkers while the young man who joined at the same time as her, Yoshimura (Amane Okayama), simply gets on with the job without complaint. Kurumi went to a good university which adds to her snooty sense of elitism but later discovers that Yoshimura went to an even better one yet obviously doesn’t feel the same sense of belittlement in being asked to perform manual labour. 

What she later realises is that all of the “pointless” menial tasks had a point but she missed it because she tried to cheat, hoping to get in Ozuka’s good books in the hopes of being transferred back to Tokyo or allowed to do actual planning work. Not until she’s begun to settle in and accepted that she’s been unfair to her coworkers does Kurumi begin to look at herself realising that her snobbishness has only made her unhappy while the relaxed atmosphere and gentle camaraderie at the park is what has kept her new colleagues so cheerful. The extent of her personal growth is thrown into sharp relief when Toshio visits from Tokyo and immediately begins running the park down, describing her colleagues as “nosey”, and finally exclaiming that he preferred the old snooty Kurumi and wants her to come back to elitist Tokyo with him before she turns into a happy provincial. So changed is she that she can’t quite believe he’d be so snobbish and no longer knows what she saw in him realising that she’s much happier now she’s less judgemental and more engaged with those around her. 

In essence, she’s a Dorothy who decided to stay in Oz discovering a new home and a new family in a rundown theme park in Kumamoto that might quite literally be a dreamland making families happy all year round. Filmed at the real life Mitsui Greenland amusement park, Ozland might come from the sponsored by the tourist board school of Japanese cinema (local mascot Kumamon makes several guest appearances) but undoubtedly has a lot of heart not to mention surreal whimsy in its frequent Oz references and insistence on the importance of magic in everyday life. 


OZLAND streams until 27th February in several territories as part of Japanese Film Festival Online 2022.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Silent Tokyo (サイレント・トーキョー, Takafumi Hatano, 2020)

Traditionally speaking, Christmas is a time of joy and hope, peace to all men. It is then a particular cruelty to plan a terrorist event at the very time people have been conditioned to feel safe, even if in Japan Christmas is less about familial love than the romantic. Christmas Eve will be far from a silent night in Takafumi Hatano’s holiday thriller Silent Tokyo (サイレント・トーキョー) adapted from the novel by Takehiko Hata, the sound of explosions disrupting the peaceful atmosphere as a mysterious bomber threatens to blow up Tokyo Tower if they are not granted a personal audience with the prime minister on live TV. 

Thankfully Japan does not have an extensive history of terrorist action at least of this nature, that’s one reason why a when a pair of TV journalists report a tip off they’ve received about a bomb in a shopping centre the police take little notice. The shopping centre bomb is real but of low power leaving only a single person with light injuries after most shoppers are evacuated following a smaller warning explosion in a bin near the Christmas display. It’s enough for the police to take notice, especially as grizzled veteran Seta (Hidetoshi Nishijima) becomes convinced it’s likely a dry run for something more serious, but still no one really believes a bomb could go off in the middle of Tokyo even when a message from the bomber threatening to blow up the Christmas tree in Shibuya if they are not granted an audience with the prime minister is played on large screens around the city. For whatever reason, the police choose not to evacuate the area which is quickly filled by the morbidly curious along with holiday revellers in Santa suits live-streaming the event via social media as if it were the countdown on New Year’s Eve. When the bomb doesn’t go off, they content themselves with a rousing chorus of “congratulations” as if it were all some kind of Christmas prank only to be hit by the delayed explosion a few minutes later in an elaborately staged scene of urban carnage. 

Hatano shifts suspicion between a number of suspects before finally bringing it all together while continually hinting at the bomber’s, and the film’s, true message. Early on we see a mass protest against the prime minister who appears on a large screen insisting that Japan abandon its pacifist constitution and become militarised nation capable of going to war should the necessity arise. The irony is, of course, that the PM evidently chooses not to mount much of a defence against this immediate internal threat, never mind the external, while the bomber’s message turns out to be that war is morally wrong and not something a civilised nation should be pursuing. The bombs are intended as a wakeup call to the prime minister and the “apathetic” citizens of Japan who elected him, urging them that if they truly understood the nature of war they would want no part of it. That the message is delivered through violence which includes loss of life and serious injury is another irony and one likely to prove counterproductive especially considering the bullishness of the PM who repeatedly appears on TV screens insisting that the government does not negotiate with terrorists while simultaneously playing the strongman and not appearing to do very much else. 

In any case, the film briefly touches on other kinds of secondary violence such as the affects of post-traumatic stress in soldiers returning from peacekeeping missions overseas, police dealing with major incidents, victims of crime, and that of a young man having witnessed his father violently abusing his mother. But in keeping with the Christmas theme, the motive turns out to be romantic in addition to political delivered with a kind of misplaced love and desire for vengeance which goes someway to explaining the various target locations which are all obvious stop offs on a stereotypical Tokyo day trip culminating with the iconic Tokyo Tower. The irony of this anti-violence bombing campaign is fully brought home by the assertions of the police that they are technically at war with the bomber, who perhaps hopes that being directly subjected to the reality of military violence will help bolster support for the pacifist constitution while their hope of being able to change the prime minister’s nationalistic mindset through chatting with him on TV seems rather naive. In any case, the messages of peace to all men are perfectly suited to the festive season even if they come in slightly counterintuitive packaging. 


Original trailer (English subtitles available from CC button)

My Long Awaited Love Story (わたしに運命の恋なんてありえないって思ってた, Takafumi Hatano, 2016)

My Long Awaited Love Story posterChristmas is synonymous with romance in Japan, but should you really rush into love just to get a pretty picture under the bright lights of a shopping mall holiday display? Perhaps not, but rom-coms are not generally the best place to look for realistic dating advice. “Realistic dating advice” is what the lovelorn heroine of My Long Awaited Love Story (わたしに運命の恋なんてありえないって思ってた, Watashi ni Unmei no Koi nante Arienaitte Omotteta) ends up giving when she runs into a socially awkward CEO with a crush on an employee, but in true rom-com fashion finds herself falling for him instead.

27-year-old Riko (Mikako Tabe) has given up on love, at least in the “real” world. Ironically enough, her job is writing romantic storylines for dating sims at which she is apparently very successful which is why she’s been hired as a consultant by a tech firm looking to branch out in the hope of capturing the female market. The problem is that the more she observes “real” guys in the world all around her, the more they disappoint. The handsome “prince” at a coffee shop says all the right things but then claims to have forgotten his wallet. The clingy cutie has another girl on the line, and the domineering Type-A hunk crumbles in front of a strong woman. Riko knows that Hollywood-style meet cutes don’t happen in everyday life, but finds herself repeatedly running into them only for something to burst her bubble unexpectedly.

At the meeting for her new game, the assembled team being almost entirely female which, when you think about it, is a little bit depressing because it means the boss has used it to get all the women off the floor, Riko is taken by the handsome, sensitive Midoritani (Jun Shison) but gets a rude awakening when another guy turns up and immediately makes it clear he hates all her ideas. According to him, women who play dating sims must be ugly or stupid, the sort of people unwilling to see reality, retreating into a frothy fantasy land to escape their unhappy lives. Thoroughly fed up, Riko sets him right, only to realise this man, Kurokawa (Issey Takahashi), is actually the president of the company.

They haven’t exactly hit it off, and Riko is further enraged when she overhears him giving an interview to a women’s magazine in which he claims to be “supporting women”, parroting all the words she threw at him to make himself sound progressive. Gently teasing him about his obvious crush on Momose (Aya Ohmasa), a pretty employee, however brings them a little closer and earns her an apology. Kurokawa takes some of her advice, tries out a tactic from a game she wrote, finds it kind of works, and eventually asks her to teach him the ways of love. Despite feeling under confident in her own love life as an unattached 27-year-old, she agrees.

Gradually we discover that Riko’s taste for romantic fantasy is a clear eyed choice designed to keep her “safe” from heartbreak because it’s not real and the idealised 2D guys from her games are never going to let her down. Annoyingly, Kurokawa was right up to a point, but you can’t deny that the world Riko lives in is in itself disappointing, a fiercely sexist society in which the men are timid children and the women socially conditioned not to make the first move. Kurokawa’s courtship of Momose, it has to be said, borders on harassment considering he’s the boss and she’s much younger than he is. Early on, Riko outs herself as a youthful devote of shojo manga, given unrealistic ideas about romance from idealised stories of innocent love filled with charming, handsome princes and infinite happy endings. Riko wanted to fall in love like that, which is to say, unrealistically without fully engaging with all the difficult bits of being in a relationship.

Needless to say, she begins to fall for Kurokawa who, for all his awkwardness, has a good a heart and the willingness to learn. Thanks to him she gets the courage to humiliate a bunch of high school bullies at a reunion, but still struggles with the idea of opening herself up to “real” love and the possibility of heartbreak. When Kurokawa has a crisis and calls her, she knows where he’ll be but sends Momose instead, either out of a sense of awkwardness or perhaps just afraid to face him in such an emotional state. A professional humbling and the miracle of Christmas conspire to convince them both that you’ll never be happy hiding your feelings and if you want “real” love you’ll have to accept the risk of getting hurt. That’s reality for you, but it can probably wait until after the festive season.


Currently available to stream via Viki.

Teaser trailer (no subtitles)