Fine, Totally Fine

Fine, Totally Fine


Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski

Yosuke Fujiya's first full-length feature revisits some familar themes from recent Japanese comedy/dramas; the small, sleepy town; the collection of eccentric characters; the marginalised woman in the lead; the intermittent lapses into the surreal and fantastic. This formula has produced some gems, such as Tetsuya Nakashima's exuberant and riotous Kamikaze Girls and Memories Of Matsuko, and also some duds, like the over-egged Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers. Fine, Totally Fine, blessed with a skillful cast and writer/director Fujiya's eye for detail and vivid imagination, adds up to a warm-hearted and engaging picture.

It opens on Akari (Yoshino Kimura, Sakuran), a chronically shy young woman, barely able to speak to strangers. Unemployed, she spends much of her time observing at a distance a local 'crazy lady' - a wild, elderly woman who lives in a shack by the river, and builds colourful sculptures out of rubbish. Then she returns to her home, and draws the woman's portraits in bold and colourful pastel strokes that contrast sharply with her own reserved demeanour. Her scribbling is accompanied by a cassette tape that continuously plays the sound of heavy rain falling.

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In the same town, Teruo (Yosiyosi Arakawa, Memories Of Matsuko), a parks maintenance worker, practices for his dream career as a professional 'scarer'. With the help of friends (some more, some less willing) he sets up scary pranks and films amateurish horror footage. Things look set to change, though, when his father starts to suffer from depression and becomes unable to work in his second-hand-bookshop.

Completing the main triptych of characters, there's Komori (Yoshinori Okada), an old-time friend of Teruo. The middle-manager of a hospital cleaning team, he's keenly aware of his age and lack of achievement so far. To make matters worse, he's single and fending off the match-making attempts of his staff. He's increasingly irritated by Teruo's zany aspirations.

Then Akari gets a job at the hospital, and is drawn into the lives of Komori and Teruo. Her entry into the hospital cleaning team quickly illustrates the extent of her social ineptitude. Plenty of physical comedy follows, and it's laid on pretty thick, but Yoshino Kimura is so convincingly clumsy, and her face and expressions so delicate, that she gets away with it. Watch out for the most spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to open a box of tissues in cinematic history. Kimura's performance is all the more remarkable when you place it alongside her frosty geisha, Takao, in Sakuran.

Predictably, after a number of small catastrophes at work, Komori's boss finally gives Akari the shove. Concerned for her welfare, Komori finds her and introduces her to Teruo's family, and she gets a second chance at public life, as assistant in the bookshop whilst Teruo's dad is in recovery. In spite of her reserve, before long Akari has turned both men's heads; but unknown to them, she only has eyes for a customer who's started to call in regularly.

An understated ensemble piece, Fine, Totally Fine juggles its many elements confidently down to the numerous bit-parts - Teruo's wickedly funny encounter with a mother and son in psychedelic clothing stands out among these. The three principal characters are well-crafted and deftly portrayed by the actors. Komori's man-in-charge confidence is tempered with insecurity, and his thoughtfulness balances best friend Teruo's blundering big kid - self-centred, blunt, irreverent and wonderfully funny, from his absurd sweaters to his terrific one-liners. The subtitles are pretty well executed too, and preserve most of the humour.

Writer/director Fujita's resolution is handled just as deftly as the body of the film. In the hands of Hollywood, Akari might have got a 'misfit to Miss World' style makeover; in Fujita's small-town Japan, though, there is plenty of room for the lonely and the eccentric. Avoiding any gross or insensitive character development, the final scenes confirm that the situation has changed, and Akari has found happiness, but she is still Akari. A conversation with Komori runs to a stuttering 'thank you; and she still keeps the rain cassette to hand.

Reviewed on: 10 Nov 2008
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A gentle, witty character study that takes in a panorama of small-town eccentrics.
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Director: Yosuke Fujita

Writer: Yosuke Fujita

Starring: Yosiyosi Arakawa, Yoshino Kimura, Yoshinori Okada, Miyuki Torii

Year: 2007

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: Japan


Raindance 2008

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