Hi! Otsuka Drugstore

Hi! Otsuka Drugstore


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

And Hi! to you, too, Yu Katsumata. The writer-director’s debut may be an uneven watch, but it’s a fully embossed calling card suggesting better things to come.

The querulous Otsuka runs her cluttered pharmacy with nary an eye on her trade. In between sleeping behind the counter and popping out to stretch and fart in the street, she never seems clear who’s a shoplifter and who’s a genuine customer.

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Her quirky view of the world becomes focused on a young school girl who keeps buying nail varnish. Otsuka divines that the girl is painting her nails to attract the intention of a fellow pupil and, with barking eccentricity, decides to help. In so doing Otsuka relives some less than happy memories of her own school boy crush, which starts to smooth off her abrasive adult edges.

Katsumata manages a good balancing act between the present and flashbacked past once his central conceit is set up. The two leads’ emerging fortunes polarise with some tenderness, recreating the bittersweetness of both youthful angst and a more mature compunction. Job done, perhaps, for the relatively short running time. Yet, after getting us to this point we’re very much left hanging, with the sense that Katsumata really has a bigger film to be made.

The direction shows flair, picking out striking visual lines and depth in the most ordinary of locations, all awash with over-saturated video colours. The approach can distance us from the characters, though, and this is compounded by plenty of rolled camera viewpoints, high angle positions and full body long shots. The performances also frequently stymie our engagement. They are exuberant, manga-ish and at times in keeping with contemporary Japanese cinema’s Kabuki-inflected OTT style. However, this shows how difficult a style it is to get right. If it isn’t pitch-perfect and doesn’t serve the characters and story well, it thunks into the ground, hard. At times it scuppers what could have been a much more involving and amusing watch.

Despite its flaws Hi! Otsuka Drugstore shows the considerable ambitions of a would-be Satoshi Miki. On this evidence Katsumata will surely return with a more rounded, fully formed feature soon.

Reviewed on: 10 Oct 2010
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A bullish drugstore owner befriends a schoolgirl with a hopeless crush on a boy.
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Director: Yu Katsumata

Writer: Yu Katsumata

Starring: Aya Enoji, Kana Kobayashi, Mayuko Arisue

Year: 2010

Runtime: 48 minutes

Country: Japan


Raindance 2010

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